Nokia debuted a new feature for its Ovi Maps service at this week's Nokia World 2010 event in London: check-ins. But, thankfully, the company isn't hopping on the bandwagon of location-based social sharing with its own self-branded service (also known as "yet another social network I have to sign up for.") Instead, Nokia is taking the idea of location seriously, enabling real-time social sharing privately between friends or, with just a tap, to your social networking services of choice.
The service integrates with both large global networks like Facebook and Twitter, but also smaller, more regionally focused networks like China's RenRen and Germany's StudioVZ.
More importantly, though, the issue of privacy has been thoughtfully addressed.
Location and Privacy
Nokia's check-in feature doesn't run in the background, like its competitor Google Latitude, which automatically updates your location as you move about town. Instead, users who want to check in using Ovi Maps have to start the process manually each and every time.
Nokia's check-in service is also not trying to compete with the numerous location-based applications already in existence, like the game-based networks of Gowalla and Foursquare or the more mobile shopping-focused apps like Topguest and Shopkick.
Ovi Maps is just about sharing location - not rewards, coupons, badges or stamps. It lets you quickly and easily tell your friends where you are and it even works via SMS and email to alert friends who are not Ovi Maps users.
Perhaps its best feature, though, is the delete button.
While you can't delete an individual update, you can, with a touch of a button, delete all your location-based data from Nokia's Ovi servers. This should alleviate some people's concerns about location-sharing and the potential threat to privacy it invites. Could your location-based data be accessed by unknown parties, mined for cyber-stalking purposes, or might you just not want Nokia to have this data on hand? If so, then Ovi Maps' check-in service may appeal as it lets you use location-sharing, but privately.
Users can also choose to push their data out to larger social networks like Facebook and Twitter or even smaller, regional ones, if they prefer, by tapping those options on screen during a check-in. One odd miss is Foursquare integration, which is doubly odd since Nokia is simultaneously launching its own Foursquare app built using the service's APIs (developer tools).
When asked if Foursquare would arrive in future iterations of the service, cagey execs would only reply, "we'd like that." This seems to point to some technical foul-up somewhere along the line rather than an oversight.
Location is Not a Craze, It's the Future
For Nokia, location isn't just about getting hip to the latest trend to hit the tech world. The company sees location as playing a larger role in the future of mobile. "Social location is the new connector," said Nokia's Tero Ojanpera, EVP in its Services division, referring to Nokia's company slogan "connecting people."
In emerging markets, Ojanpera says the benefits of socially shared location are the same, but the usage is different. For example, a user in an undeveloped region may still want a mapping service, but instead of having directions that read "turn right" at some road, it may use a notable landmark as the indicator of where the route changes.
Another example the company is currently pondering is how it could location-enable its Ovi Life tools for end users, this being the content suite covering health care, agriculture, education and entertainment. Although the tools already offer locally relevant content, they're not actually location-based services yet. But since they're designed to bring news and information to rural users in emerging markets where the only Internet device is a handheld phone and TV, newspapers and radio may not be accessible, the idea of making the services not just geographically focused, but also hyper-local, based on an end user's current location is intriguing.
That's further down the road, though, for the company. For now, the company is content to bring the check-in feature to the 20 million+ people who have downloaded Ovi Maps across 78 countries worldwide. Check-ins will be available on both the new Symbian^3 devices like the N8 and older touchscreen devices running Symbian^1.
In addition to check-ins, Nokia's Ovi Maps service has also gained gesture control, real-time traffic information, plus alerting and informational features for available parking, speed traps and gas station locations. It now includes maps of public transport in 85 cities, as well. The new version of the service is now available for download here in beta format.
Disclosure: Nokia paid for this reporter's travel and accommodations to Nokia World 2010.