A bit of background – I just started a new job recently and that means I’m no longer sitting on the train for an hour every day (each way) but I’m instead driving to work. One night, on the way home, my usual way home was gridlocked and instead of a 20 minute drive it took the best part of an hour. Meh. I wasn’t happy about that. Then I remembered this thing I’d heard of called ‘Waze‘ – now, around this time we were also required to attend a meeting in Cambridge. I didn’t know how to get there, so as you do, I used Google Maps to work out the best route to use with navigation. Punched in the address details and it had 3 different route options, all roughly the same, but then I noticed a red line on one of the roads and a warning triangle near my destination. I clicked it and it said ‘road closed due to an accident, expected to open again by 09.45‘ – well that was no good, we were meant to be there by 10. Last thing we needed was gridlock at the other end. So I selected one of the other route options, unbelievably, there was road works going that way causing delays. So I had to choose the third option instead. Though rather upset at the prospect of a longer journey, I was rather pleased with the forewarning about the road closure/works. Now it turns out, this up-to-date traffic information was supplied to Google via the Waze app (you might remember that just recently Google acquired Waze for some ridiculous figure and this is the reason why). So, on realising just how much more wonderful Google Maps had become, I thought there might be something to this Waze thing and I better investigate if I wanted to avoid any nasty commutes in the future. So I downloaded Waze and watched the video. Impressive stuff and yet so simple. It’s a social driving experience, but you can get as involved (or not) as you like. It’s clever really and there are certain elements that leapt out for me. For example, you just need to have Waze running and it works out things like your most common driving routes, then it takes data on your average speed along those roads and if it’s slower than usual it’ll send that data to others and let them know that it might take them longer to get home. You can of course fully commit to the Waze experience by actively reporting traffic problems, accidents and what-not via the app. That’s voice activated, so there’s no need to worry about being fined for using your phone while driving. I’ll admit, I haven’t used the functionality that far yet, but just from the fact that it learns how you drive and what the road speeds are then uses that to work out what the traffic is like really impresses me. There’s a widget you can add to your home screen that with a click of the refresh button will tell you how long it will take you to get home and gives you a warning if it’s going to take longer than usual. So you can click that button at the end of the day before leaving work and know beforehand whether you need to find an alternate route home. They obviously try to make the Waze app as social as possible, there’s leaderboards, friends lists and you can even go around and collect special ‘road goodies’ for extra points (though why you’d want to drive out of your way to get them is beyond me, especially since the app is aimed at saving you journey time and fuel money?).
Note the app has things like warnings about speed cameras too. You get up-to-date information on things like traffic speed on certain parts of the road which are obviously really helpful. And there’s also built in navigation so you can use the app to get from A to B (though to be honest I won’t use it as I prefer Google Maps navigation). I’d like to see Google merge Maps and Waze together to result in the best possible experience for everyone as Maps is nearly installed by default on every phone and not everyone knows about Waze, but the data it gathers and it’s uses are invaluable. Right down to the simple things like the nearest petrol station and the prices of fuel. Waze – highly recommended!