Weaving its way through the busy streets of San Francisco, a bright blue Volkswagen with a cadre of cameras and 64 spinning laser beams, is about to give Google and Apple a run for their money.
"We're actually creating a 3D representation of the world as we're doing this, and that's much different than just taking pictures," Nokia Senior Vice President Cliff Fox said.
Five years ago, the cellphone maker bought Navteq, the company that makes maps for Ford, Cadillac, and almost every other dashboard navigation system. Now, Nokia is bringing those maps to smartphones with an app called "Here."
"You're able to zoom in and zoom out super clearl; you can see the 3D representations of the buildings, and what's cool with this maps release is actually if I press here, you can see inside the building," head of product marketing Ifi Majid said.
Just like a car navigation system, Here stores the entire map on the phone instead of slowly downloading it as the user moves around.
It comes on Nokia's own Windows phones, also as a Web app for your desktop and soon, as an app for the iPhone, an alternative to the heavily criticized Apple maps.
And unlike Apple, whose imagery all comes from the sky, Nokia's fancy cars let it offer a view from the street, just like Google maps.
"That detail is not available from aerial kinds of capture," Fox said.
Nokia is throwing its hat in the ring at a time when smartphone owners may be more aware than ever than not all maps are created equal.
"Apple's had this terrific fiasco with its Apple maps launch; huge embarrassment for Apple, and that creates opportunities for competitors like Nokia," Venturebeat Executive Editor Dylan Tweney said.
Tweney says the maps are high quality, but may represent a desperate move for Nokia.
"They've lost a huge amount of market share in their phones; in fact, they've fallen even behind the makers of Blackberry," Tweney said. "And maps are one of the few things they still have that they haven't completely screwed up."