Last week, the scrappy Nokia revealed its latest effort to hoist itself back into American consumer relevance, and this time the company chose one of the most volatile areas of personal technology: the smartphone maps app.
You may have heard about Apple's problems with its new Maps on iOS 6 -- the skewed graphics, the incorrect location data, the completely missing chunks of geography -- and its effect on iPhone owners who are now looking for an alternative service. With Google still hard at work on its own, eagerly anticipated iOS app, Nokia's app (called "HERE") just beat it into the App Store and might even be a legitimate choice for those who find themselves lost on Apple's mapping effort.
Is there any reason to switch over to the new mapping service from Nokia? Or, to put it another way: What does Nokia HERE offer that Apple Maps does not?
Below, we've listed a few of the functions you'll find on HERE and not on Apple Maps, followed by what you're missing out on with the Nokia product. Read on to see the difference.
WHAT NOKIA HERE HAS
Spoken Turn-By-Turn Walking Directions
If you live in a big walking city, you can pop in your headphones and use Nokia HERE to guide you around the city streets as you amble about. With Apple Maps, you'll have to check your iPhone display as you go; with Nokia HERE, that information is piped right into your ears.
Nokia HERE features indoor mapping information for a limited number of sports stadiums, airports and shopping malls; Apple is still working on it.
HERE provides specific category recommendations ("Cheap eats," "Hip bars") for locations around you, similar to lists on Foursquare or Yelp or Bing Scout on Windows Phone. If you register for a Nokia account, you can also search for locations online and find them again on your Nokia HERE app on your iPhone. Another neat feature: When you search for a location, you can sort your results by store category ("shopping," dining," etc.).
When Apple ditched Google's mapping data for its own home brew, it lost the ability to dole out public transit directions for large cities, forcing San Franciscans and New Yorkers to choose their own third-party apps to get their route information. Nokia HERE, like Google, can provide directions on public transit and users don't have to exit the app.
WHAT NOKIA HERE LACKS
Remember, of course, that there are certain functions that iOS 6 Maps offers and Nokia HERE does not. For now, iOS 6 Maps has spoken turn-by-turn directions for driving, while HERE does not. iOS 6 Maps also integrates with the wealth of information on Yelp, while Nokia HERE relies on its own location and review data. We've also seen numerous complaints about the quality of Nokia's mapping data in comments sections of tech sites around the web, so your mileage may vary.
And, the big killer: Apple does not allow you to set a third-party maps app as your primary map, which means that whenever you click on an address from a website or from an email, you will automatically be routed to iOS Maps, rather than Nokia HERE, regardless of your preference. That can be an annoyance if you're trying to load directions quickly.
The Nokia HERE app is currently available for free in the iTunes App App Store (for iPad or iPhone). Before downloading it, you can familiarize yourself with the HERE interface and test out the functionality online at Here.net. That should give you a good idea of whether the design is right for you. You can also test out what kind of local results you get in your area, and whether you find the maps accurate or helpful. And if you don't: Apple Maps is getting better.
We've also profiled several iOS 6 Maps alternatives you might enjoy.