Thursday, August 22, 2013


End of a great app or an improvement? Waze + Google Maps = ??

by Larry Geller

Aha. Maybe this explains it. On Tuesday we set off on errands, and turned on Waze as usual to avoid Honolulu’s bad traffic. (See: Which app for that? Best navigator—Waze, 4/21/2013)

Unfortunately, the search for our destination failed repeatedly. Frustrated, I turned the phone off. It’s not that we can’t find where we are going in Honolulu without it, just that Waze is pretty good at avoiding traffic jams, construction, and so forth. It’s also become comforting to hear the soothing voice intone “You are nearing your destination.”

Waze can do this because Waze users themselves are the source of information that the program uses to guide other users. Waze crowdsources traffic conditions, so it is current, right to the minute.

Maybe this announcement had something to do with the search failure: New features ahead: Google Maps and Waze apps better than ever

Maybe better, maybe not. We’ll have to see. The search function used to work, but Tuesday it didn’t. What have they done to it?

Waze was purchased by Google. Now, probably this was better than Plan A, which was that Facebook would buy Waze. So Waze is no longer just Waze. Worse, it seems that Google Maps is sucking away some of the features that made Waze unique. That could become a big problem in a short time for dedicated Waze users.

Here’s the issue as I see it (from the Google announcement linked above):

Users of Google Maps for Mobile will now benefit from real time incident reports from Waze users. This means when Wazers report accidents, construction, road closures and more on Waze, the updates will also appear on the Google Maps app for Android and iOS in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, France, Germany, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Switzerland, UK and the US.

This is (temporarily) great for Google Maps users. They will get the crowdsourced traffic, accident and “police visible” reports posted by Waze users. What will Waze users get? Almost nothing. Just the Google Search so far, which is possibly what failed us on Tuesday. The old search worked just fine, so no thank you, Google.

The effect of this merger is that there is little reason for Google Maps users to use Waze. They get all the benefits while doing nothing to contribute.

Waze only succeeds because drivers are motivated to use it. That is, in exchange for their data, which is created simply by running the Waze app even if they don’t enter any traffic or accident reports, Waze can guide users around routes of high congestion. It works for me because other users have reported any problems either explicitly with a report, or implicitly by being forced to drive slowly. Similarly, when I’m stuck in traffic, Waze reports to other users that cars are hardly moving at all on the street where I’m stuck, and where possible, they’re routed differently.

So if Google Maps users get this information, why switch to Waze at all?

In Honolulu, Waze works best during rush hours when there are a couple of hundred Waze users sending data from all over the island. It works less well at times when there are few drivers.

By stealing away Waze’s benefits without also the simple responsibility that to realize those benefits you have to run the Waze app, Waze could deteriorate and defeat the purpose of the acquisition in the first place.

In which case, Google might just kill it. They’ve killed very useful applications before. Or, they could incorporate Waze into Google Maps. We’ll have to see how it goes.


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