Nokia gets mapping right. Almost.

Now that I’ve asked my questions in the virtual press conference and had some time to reflect on the answers, I’m ready to deliver my verdict on the Ovi Maps navigation free-for-all.

If you’re not up to speed, here’s a quick video summary of the new Ovi Maps:

Make no mistake, it’s a stunning achievement for the huge, multinational behemoth that is Nokia, and I’m in complete agreement with Ewan MacLeod that it instantly puts Google and everyone else on their heels.

Unfortunately, the other killer feature of Ovi Maps is also its biggest problem. Let me explain…

Prior to today’s announcement the single, best thing about Ovi Maps was its ability to cache mapping data locally on your device. Unlike Google Maps for mobile, you could load up your Nokia handset with maps before you stepped out the door, or onto a plane bound for some exotic foreign land. Your maps would be with you when you needed them and critically, you wouldn’t have to pay any data charges to access them.

It’s been a feature since version 1.0, and can literally save you hundreds of dollars when roaming with your mobile. Trust me, I speak from experience on this…

But getting the maps onto your handset is another matter altogether. While entire continents can be downloaded and transferred to your device via Map Loader for OS X and Windows desktop computers (see the bottom-left corner of this page), there’s no such convenience for those using Linux. And those without the luxury of a desktop computer at all must get maps onto their device manually — that is, accessing Ovi Maps on their Nokia via a WiFi hotspot, entering some foreign destination and then scrolling around at the highest available zoom level, hoping they’ve sucked down everything they need.

Not exactly an elegant solution.

It would be so much easier if Nokia made their map sets available to everyone (or registered Ovi users at the very least) via some kind of standard file download that the mobile app could read. And if others could “hack” into these files and make them more useful somehow, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing, would it? As Nokia is ultimately in the business of selling handsets I don’t see how such a thing could hurt them.

With today’s announcement Ovi Maps is certainly more compelling — I’ll definitely be putting it through its paces once available for my N97. Now it just needs to be more, you know… open.

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