Nokia announced today that they have struck a licensing deal that will see their highly rated offline maps and navigation app, HERE
, coming to Samsung's Android and Tizen devices, including Samsung's Android Wear and Tizen smartwatches. Even better, the app will be free for Samsung device owners. Up until now, HERE has been available in the U.S. exclusively on Windows Phones, but that exclusivity period has now ended, and the HERE software was not part of Microsoft's purchase of Nokia's hardware division.
The HERE app offers maps for 196 countries, and voice-guided, turn-by-turn navigation for 96 of those. If the device has a data connection, it provide real-time traffic and transit schedules in 41 of those. Other than the breadth of coverage, it doesn't sound too different than Google Maps, which comes free with most every Android device.
But HERE offers one big advantage over Google Maps: offline navigation. With HERE, you can download entire countries, or regions, for offline use. When you're a couple of hundred miles from the nearest cell tower, this capability can be, literally, a life saver. Google maps works great for driving in and near populated areas, but if you're driving or hiking off the beaten path it can fail you when you need it most.
HERE has been one of the major draws of the Windows OS, with most Windows users stating that it is better than Google Maps. In addition to offline navigation, it offers more route customization options than Google (you can exclude certain roads from the route, for example), indoor maps for more than 75,000 buildings in 72 countries, and support for 52 languages. HERE also includes a tool called Glympse, which lets users update their friends about their current location, and when they will arrive at their destination, in real time. It will work with Samsung's voice control features as well.
On the Gear S, HERE will provide both walking and transit turn-by-turn navigation in both online and offline modes.
Sean Fernback, Senior Vice President of Nokia's Everyday Mobility, HERE, division, said:
We believe that maps and location-related functionality are essential for any operating system. HERE aims to deliver fresh maps, platform services and location cloud experiences to as many people and businesses as possible, independent of the device and operating system they are using. Partnering with Samsung for the Tizen OS, and providing maps and location services for the first time with the new Samsung Gear is another huge step for us in that direction."
Here also offers a web version
of their mapping software, and allows syncing between your web searches and locations and your phone (at least on current Windows phones--we're assuming this will be included on the Android version, too).
The Tizen version of the app will be released simultaneously with the Gear S smartwatch, with the Android version available as an open beta at the same time. Nokia has indicated they will make the app available on more Android devices in the future, but hasn't said whether it will be free for those devices as well.
It's always good to have competition. Even if you stick with Google Maps, competition will force Google to improve their app. We hope.