Over the past several weeks, I have taken several out-of-town road trips. On these trips I used a novel free smart phone app for routing and traffic information called Waze (waze.com). There are an abundance of apps that function with the integral GPS built into almost all smart devices, including smart phones and tablets. Available for most smart devices with an appropriate wireless Internet connection (cellular or Wi-Fi) running Android, iOS (Apple devices), Windows Mobile, Symbian and Blackberry powered devices, Waze provides much more current routing and road related information than most other competitive apps.
For those who may drive outside the U.S., Waze is multinational in scope and offers real-time traffic information on an international scale. According to Wikipedia, “As of 2013 Waze has a complete base map for the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium, Israel (claimed to be the best map for that country), South Africa, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile and Panama, but the company has plans to complete maps for other countries in Europe and elsewhere.”
According to Waze, users “get the best route every day with real-time help from other drivers.” With millions of users (Yahoo reported over 50 million users in mid-2013), Waze utilizes real-time information from users who have opened the Waze app on their smart devices. Waze anonymously, continuously and transparently reports location, speed and other information to a centralized server, which in turn almost instantly compiles and displays this shared information on other Waze equipped smart devices in the same user selected area. For privacy and security reasons, by default, the Waze configuration utilizes a user chosen screen name and avatar on the remote screens, and does not publically display any other personally identifiable user information.
While several other route mapping apps simply display traffic conditions as a colored line on a map, typically green indicating that traffic is moving fast, yellow indicates slowed traffic, and red indicating major traffic slowdowns or stoppage, Waze utilizes a different approach. Since the Waze app on the users’ devices are continuously reporting speed and location based on GPS information, accurate traffic information is displayed along with a wide assortment of other helpful and useful information. According to the Waze website, this difference between Waze and the other GPS based routing apps is Waze users “get alerted before (approaching) police, accidents, road hazards or traffic jams, all shared by other drivers in real-time. It’s like a personal heads-up from a few million of your friends on the road.”
For safety reasons, if Waze is used by the driver of a vehicle, the text input function is disabled once a destination is entered or selected off of a saved list. The driver can still be informed of upcoming traffic, hazards and other reports, as well as audio turn-by-turn directions, without having to physically handle the device. There is an option button displayed where a passenger can enable the text-based data entry process while the vehicle is in motion. In addition to the passive information on speed and other road information provided by the app itself, a passenger can actively contribute to the community of Waze users by using a simple icon based method of sharing road reports. These passenger-entered road reports take the current location, as automatically provided by the GPS, along with manually entered information on accidents, traffic congestion and delays, disabled vehicles, speed traps and other road hazards, which immediately show up on all other Waze connected devices in the area. In addition to road related information, users can also enter gas station prices observed on their route, which will be displayed to others driving through the same area. Waze says on its Web site, “By working together to report prices at the pump, Waze drivers can always save some gas money.”
What is unusual about the maps displayed on Waze is that they are community edited; Waze has an active community of map editors who work continuously to improve and update the maps displayed by the Waze app. Map corrections and updates are constantly incorporated in the Waze display, down to the neighborhood level. These same community map editors also continuously improve the routing utility incorporated into the Waze app. Waze has made it as easy for any of the millions of users to submit suspected map errors or better routing information to the editors as it is to enter a road hazard; a single click on the appropriate icon, along with an appropriate comment, immediately sends the information to the map editors. For example, earlier today, while returning from Houston (my wife was driving), I submitted two suggested changes: the first was a suggested routing correction to my home address, submitting a shorter and faster route; the second was the location of a newly opened gas station.
While the information from users is anonymously displayed on the Waze display, using a moniker rather than a real name, users can also optionally select to send Waze information to selected individuals, or to post it on social networks, such as Facebook. On a recent out of town trip to visit a daughter and her family, I chose to provide her with a real-time Web link that would display my current location and “ETA” (Estimated Time of Arrival). Clicking on the icon on the bottom-left corner of my screen, I selected the “notify” function, which presented me with a comprehensive list of messaging utilities; text messaging, e-mail, Facebook and several other modes were displayed. I selected to send my daughter a private text message that included a Waze generated unique URL which, when opened in her browser, displayed my real-time location and ETA, which was continuously updated in her browser. This same function can also serve to notify someone who is going to be met or picked up by the Waze user of the expected time of arrival.
The posting of travel information to Facebook can be useful if a group is trying to arrange a get-together of some type, and all of the participants can be kept apprised of the others’ locations and arrival times. While Waze supports posting of current location information to social networking services such as Facebook, for security reasons, I cannot recommend this practice. Even if the social media post is only directed to friends, not all friends may be honest and trustworthy. Posting that a user is a distance away from home, and will not be returning for a lengthy period of time, opens that user’s home to possible break-in and burglary, as the perpetrators will know that no one is home and no one is likely to be home for a foreseeable time.
While the Waze app is totally free to download and use, its business model is funded in a variety of ways. Waze offers advertisers an opportunity to place a small, unobtrusive icon on a given location, which may encourage Waze users to patronize that location. Waze also sells its aggregate traffic conditions and reports to media outlets, mostly TV stations, for their use in broadcasting current local traffic information. Utilized by several New York and New Jersey TV stations, the Waze feed is also employed (as of June 2013) by over 25 other U.S. TV stations, as well as foreign TV stations, including one in Rio de Janeiro.
Since Waze is free, and will run on almost any appropriately equipped smart device, regardless of operating system, I can wholeheartedly recommend it to travelers for both local and long distance driving.