A few weeks ago I bought myself a Bluetooth headset for my motorcycle helmet. I figured now that I have speakers in my helmet it was time to check out the navigation options for my Android phone. The first application I found was the built in Navigation application and while it works great I wanted to see what other options I had. I did some searching and found a community driven navigation project named Waze. I have been using Waze for the last few weeks to get an idea how the system works and just how well it would work for me.
You might be asking yourself how this system works so let me explain that a bit. Anytime you have Waze open on your device and are driving around it is collecting data about your drive and constantly updating the server. Using this data it can alert other users of issues that may come up during their route. For instance let’s pretend you and I are both traveling South down Interstate 95 on our ways to work. You are a few minutes ahead of me and hit traffic. Your application will report that you are in heavy traffic based on the speeds you are moving. Waze will in-turn alert me and any other Waze users going down the same route that there is traffic congestion ahead. If possible Waze will attempt to direct me and any other Waze user around the traffic. It does all of this in real time. Traffic is not the only alert you can receive. You can be alerted of things like debris in the road, broken down vehicle in the lane or on the shoulder, any police traps other members have reported and probably more but I do not know the whole list of alerts.
I have found that the Waze Live Map generally shows the traffic more accurately than even Google Maps. This is due to the real-time information they are receiving from all of the Waze users who are running the application. The more people out there who are running Waze the better the system will be.
As mentioned above my main use for an application like this is while riding my motorcycle. It makes sense to have vocal instructions in your ear rather than trying to take your focus away from the bike. I have found that Waze does not currently fit my particular needs however it is a pretty interesting concept so I am planning on using it more while driving in my car.
Personally I like using Waze because it is real-time data. I am not exactly sure how other mapping services handle the traffic data but if I had to guess I would say it’s based on historical data and an estimate. I could be completely wrong there and if I am feel free to call me out! I also love the fact that it is community driven. If you see a police trap on your route it tells you who reported it and how long ago it was reported. Having real-time information is a plus for me.
I also like the fact that there are area managers for Waze. What this means is that not just “anyone” can edit the map. Don’t be fooled anyone can report map issues but it is up to the area managers that will keep the map updated for everyone by correcting issues that members report.
There are however a few things I do not like about Waze. Last week I decided to allow Waze to direct me around the traffic congestion on I95 and followed the route it took me on. It ended up leading me through Revere and into Boston. Once I was in Boston it had me go over the Tobin Bridge (toll bridge) which I was not happy about. The whole route took me through 3 different toll booths costing me an extra $6 to get to work. Now you might be saying well you choose the faster route to save time. In all honesty it took just as long if not longer to get to work taking that route AND I was out $6.
After I got to work I started to research how to tell Waze to avoid toll roads. I was completely shocked to find out this is not yet a feature that Waze supports. EVERY Navigation solution I have EVER seen supports this feature. I mean it should not be too hard to log the coordinates of Toll Booths because they will NEVER move. This is by far my largest gripe with this solution. If I am telling an application to navigate me to a destination then chances are I do not know the way. I don’t always want to avoid toll booths though. If the toll route will save me a significant amount of time I would opt to take that route. When I say significant I mean saving me more than 20-30 minutes on my commute. If it is a daily commute then I would opt to avoid the tolls all the time because I for one don’t want to have to spend an estimated $180 a month to get to work. This is a REQUIRED feature in my opinion and hope that they work this into an update soon.
Another drawback for me is the fact that I am riding my motorcycle and my phone is ALWAYS in my jacket or pants pocket. When I come into things like congested traffic or am coming up on a police trap Waze currently only alerts you “on-screen”. At-least I have not heard any vocal cues for these situations. It renders the application almost useless for me to not be alerted vocally of EVERYTHING that happens in Waze.
I think in a future version they should have vocal cues for EVERYTHING that happens in Waze and have an option in the settings to turn it on. I know most people who are driving cars can view the screen on their devices as they are generally mounted on the dash. I plan to mount my phone to my motorcycle handlebars but even then vocal cues would be nice because I would not have to take my focus off the road to look at the phone.
Waze is still getting started in the US so there are quite a few map issues that are still being resolved. Some include incorrect junctions of intersections, others include improper routing directions such as trying to direct you the wrong way down a one way street. Personally I have not had any routing issues but I have seen them getting reported by users. Now one thing I want to mention is that just because something is reported by a user does not mean that report is accurate or true. Being a community driven application you are bound to get a lot of bogus reports from malicious users trying to break the system for everyone else. It is up to the area managers to “test” the routing directions and make any corrections that would be required.
Personally before I could adopt this as a full-time navigation solution I would need the vocal cues for all actions in Waze. I would also require the ability to tell it to avoid toll roads by default. A better option would be if I could say avoid all toll roads unless the route will save me more than 30 minutes. An even better idea would be if Waze not only stored the location of the toll but also the prices for different vehicle types. Based on the vehicle you have chosen in preferences it could calculate the estimated cost for a route based on toll cost. They could then add a setting where one could say avoid toll roads unless it will save 30 minutes AND/OR the total toll price is less than $5. If I had these options Waze would know not to ever route me down the toll roads to get to work even if it would save me an hour because I stated I wanted to spend no more than $5 and the tolls added up would cost me $6.
Are you a Waze user? Please share your thoughts or suggestions about Waze in the comments section below.