Waze

With Carmogeddon looming less than 12 hours away I want to go over Waze, a navigation app that I think will prove much more disruptive than a 53 hour shutdown of the 405.

By disruptive I mean that this little startup has the potential to revolutionize one of the least favorite parts of many peoples day: their commute. By leveraging the power of crowdsourcing and social networking, Waze provides real time, turn-by-turn navigation based on current traffic conditions. In addition to traffic information Waze also collects and reports data on accidents, red light cameras, speed traps and other road hazards that may conspire against you on your trip across town. That’s right, this app not only aims to tell you when it is OK to hop on the 405 rather than La Cienega but will guide you through the process and give you a heads up about the cop hiding after the next overpass.

Needless to say, Garmin you should be more than a little worried. I’ve long questioned the need for my stand-alone Nuvi 660 when I have a fully capable, GPS enabled smart phone with me at all times. And their $33 street pilot app hasn’t exactly been well received. One of the only advantages of having a stand alone GPS I can think of at this point is preserving the battery life of your phone. GPS navigation is a real battery killer and who wants to get where they are going with a dead phone? Hopefully as the software evolves and battery technology improves this will be less of an issue.

Speaking of issues, one of the problems I have with Waze is the social gaming elements which actually encourage user interaction while driving. “Wazers” are encouraged to report traffic incidents they encounter en route and even earn points for updating map errors or entering street names. It’s true that the UI has been designed mostly for one-handed operation, but the distraction potential is pretty high and could be enough to cause an accident (oh the irony). To be fair Waze does offer voice recognition for some features and text entry is restricted while moving; however, simply entering “passenger” mode subverts this restriction. I think Waze needs to ramp up its passive data collection and offer a simplified user interface designed for drivers to report traffic incidents with 1 touch as opposed to the 3 or 4, which may be required now.

The truth is that this revolution isn’t going to happen overnight. Waze has already been around for several years and the software still feels somewhat like beta. But Carmogeddon looks to be the perfect use case for Waze and the app has received a tremendous amount of attention over the past few months. The good news is that as the user base grows and they are able to gather more data the navigation should improve.

Who knows, Carmogeddon may be hyped up like the Y2K bug but in any case there is definitely huge potential for Waze to blaze new trails in the realm of navigation.