If you own an iPhone (and our stats say that almost 50% of you do) then you know that the one major feature it is missing is a built in turn-by-turn navigation application. For all of you Android users, please enjoy a moment of smugness, as you have an excellent navigation application as part of Google Maps. In either case, many developers have attempted to sell and give away navigation applications for all of the smartphone platforms with varying success. Recently, I have begun to use Waze; which is a free, community-based traffic and navigation application. After living with it every day for a few weeks it appears to be worth an install.
If you are concerned that you have clicked on the wrong link or found the wrong site, do not be afraid. Technology and the automobile are only going to get tighter integration moving forward. We plan to follow this merger closely and start to highlight all parts of automotive technology. I am currently
begging requesting time with the newest of the navigation/infotainment systems to try to find out what works best and who is leading the way.
With that out of the way, onto the application. Waze varies from the typical navigation application in that it is completely user generated. Waze’s maps did not come from one of the major mapping providers, instead Waze watches its users GPS locations and after it sees multiple cars travel a new route it creates a new road. This concept allows for all of Waze’s users to contribute both actively and passively. What does this mean to you? It means that people who live in heavily traveled areas can expect to find areas completely covered and with better accuracy than the majority of mapping providers. If you live in less accessed areas you will not find the same coverage, but you can become a major contributor to the site.
The mapping technology of Waze might be what sets it apart, but it is the social capabilities that make it worth the download. Like many of the “social-functional” applications that exist today (examples include: gas buddy and yelp) you receive points for activity and unlock special icons for use. In this case, you receive points for just using the application (having it actively open on your iPhone) and driving around. Waze specifically appreciates using it for your daily commute. in this case you save your home and work locations and then set it to navigate every time you drive. By doing this, the servers at Waze can better understand your commute, what paths you use, and how other factors impact your time between locations. This is very rich data about traffic patterns and as a result Waze may recommend a completely new way to your office that can save you valuable minutes.
The other benefit of hive gathered data is Waze can actively alert you to upcoming traffic, police locations, and other road hazards. Here again, if you contribute you gain virtual points and appreciation of your fellow Wazers. The final social function of Waze is the ability to directly interact with nearby users. While looking at the map of your path you can see the other people near you that are also using Waze. If you click on their icon you get a chance to send them a note. This is obviously not something you would typically want to do while driving. If you have a well integrated Bluetooth system and a newer iPhone with IOS 5.1 there is good news. Just use the new voice transcription function on your iPhone or Android device and you can speak into your car and have the text appear on the screen.
If I was reading this, I would be thinking…WONDERFUL…another stupid social media app that will further distract drivers. Well, that might be true, but I have actually found it to be useful in the real world. Last week I encountered something that proved Waze as handy tool. I was on my normal trip home and traffic on one of the highways came to an abrupt stop 0.6 miles from my exit. Traffic was parked and not moving. Ahead of me a few were two other people on Waze who marked the spot as stopped traffic. I asked them what was going on and if the shoulder was clear. They responded that it was and we all used the open shoulder to proceed to our exit.
The power of Waze will be the amount of people that use it. Right now there are around 100,000 users, and as this number continues to grow the app should continue to improve. For now, it is a useful and free navigation application for the iPhone. If you travel on common roads, it is very accurate, but if you live in less traveled or populated areas I would not trust its recommended directions without another source. If you already have another navigation application you could consider Waze as a companion application to get crowd sourced updates and alerts. For the price, y0u cannot go wrong. If you have used Waze or something like it let us know your thoughts in the comments.