Waze: Exciting News for This Exciting App

Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.
Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

Thanks to a tip from a friend from the Washington, D.C. area, I decided to try out the Waze community-based navigation app on my most recent road trip. I honestly didn’t know much about it, being that I live in a less-metropolitan geographic area.  I tried it on a couple of local trips earlier in June, and I didn’t get much out of it.  I’ve relied on the CoPilot Live app more recently, and it seemed to have worked well for me.

But I didn’t give up—last week I made an almost-1000 mile drive from Florida to West Virginia. Somewhere around Knoxville, where I hit some traffic, I decided to give Waze a second chance.

I’m glad I did.

Waze started in Israel in 2008 and when it crossed the pond to the U.S. about two years ago, it took the app world by storm. In 2013 it was awarded the Best Overall Mobile App by the Mobile World Congress, thus cinching its position as a must-have app!

I’ll get to the local metro features momentarily, but I just want to share with the world how awesome it was traveling on Interstates 40 and 81 and being among other Waze users—called “Wazers”—as we shared traffic, construction, and hidden police information. My experiences so far have been with long-distance driving; there’s much more it can do in heavier traffic and in areas with more “Wazers.”

You start out as a "baby Wazer". Can you see the pacifier in my icon's mouth? Luckily, that only lasted for 100 miles...a mere 90 minutes on I-40. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.
You start out as a “baby Wazer.” Can you see the pacifier in my icon’s mouth? Luckily, that only lasted for 100 miles…a mere 90 minutes on I-40. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

So I’m driving down the highway; the Waze app is running happily on my iPhone (which is mounted to my GripGo mount). Every once in a while I would encounter icons such as these ones pictured.

This is a great all-encompassing graphic, showing another Wazer along with two upcoming hazards. In both cases, the hazards were vehicles stopped on the shoulder. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.
This is a great all-encompassing graphic, showing another Wazer along with two upcoming hazards. In both cases, the hazards were vehicles stopped on the shoulder. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

The pink “Wazer” icon was heading towards me on I-40. It has a crown on its head, designating it a “Waze Royalty”—the top 1% of high scorers in whatever state I’m in (Tennessee, in this case). There are varying levels of “Wazers”; I had to endure 100 miles of being a baby before promoting to a “Wazer Grownup.”

Those exclamation points are identifying hazards. If you tap the icons—easy to do with my GripGo mounted-phone—a pop up window will provide more information.

It's easy to tap the screen to get more information about hazards. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.
It’s easy to tap the screen to get more information about hazards. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

You can also get information about hidden police cars and road construction. While I’m not suggesting that drivers spend too much time on his/her phone, for what it’s worth, it’s very easy to mark locations for this information. Three taps on the phone, and you’re done!

The police car information was very helpful and pretty accurate.

In more densely-populated metropolitan areas, there is quite a bit more utility for users. The more Wazers there are in an area, the more information becomes available. You can easily connect Waze with your mobile Facebook app and you’ll automatically be friends with those drivers. Waze will alert you when your friends are on the road, and you can chat with them (which I don’t recommend if you’re the driver). I enjoyed sending “Beep Beep”s to my friends, which only takes two taps on the iPhone.

Waze will measure your device's speed in your vehicle and use it to determine traffic patterns in congested areas. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.
Waze will measure your device’s speed in your vehicle and use it to determine traffic patterns in congested areas. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

GeekMom Helene, who lives near the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore metro areas, isn’t that happy with Waze’s chat function. Her app pops up the chats if any of her friends are within a certain range. She finds that distracts her from trying to get to her destination.

GeekMom Kristen provided me the following pros and cons of using Waze throughout the Los Angeles area. And I quote….

  • Nearly everyone I know in LA loves Waze.
  • I use it every day, even for places I know the way, because she’s taught me new ways to get to work, to the studio, and home. After a while it anticipates where you’re going. I nearly squeaked with delight the first time it said, “Good afternoon! Are you on your way home?” It recognized that I go to the same place every Tuesday at 3:00pm.
  • As an LA driver, the most shocking thing about Waze is how often she tells us to take the freeways. I usually avoid them like the plague—but it turns out that even when they’re jammed sometimes, they’re still the fastest route.
  • Another reason I use her every time I get in the car—unbelievably accurate ETAs.
  • Downsides: That thing where she anticipates where you’re going—if you’re going someplace different than usual and don’t notice she’s asked you if you’re going to your typical place—she will override what you’ve plugged in. I discovered that a couple of times in the beginning. You know a, “Heyyy wait, why am I turning on Olympic?”
  • She will also take you down side streets—which at time has been a revelation—“I’m bypassing all the traffic on the main road!” But I wish she was more intuitive about what side streets have traffic lights. Often she will send you up a side street, telling you to cross a major thoroughfare. Or make a left onto one. Uh, yikes, and hello extra ten minutes added to commute.
  • I love points—it appeals to the gamer in me—and when I’m the passenger I’m always yelling when we get points. My husband will say, “But you don’t GET anything!” My response: “You get POINTS!”**
  • I love her. Yes I said her. Google better not [mess] her up.

**Waze awards you points based on how many miles you’ve traveled with Waze, how many friends you have, and how often you report items such as traffic jams, gas prices, and map problems.

My Waze is all Grown Up! After the first 100 miles you shed the pacifier and can choose a custom Waze icon. Do you like my sunflower? Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.
My Waze is all Grown Up! After the first 100 miles you shed the pacifier and can choose a custom Waze icon. Do you like my sunflower? Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

In a timely twist of fate, as several of us GeekMoms were discussing our adventures with Waze last week, Google was busy finalizing their acquisition at the tune of just over $1 billion!

Well, as Kristen suggested above, we hope that Google does a good job with Waze.

Waze is available for free download for the iOS, Android, and J2ME platforms.

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Patricia Vollmer is the proud mother of two emerging geek sons, ages 12 & 14. She serves part time as a meteorologist with the Air Force Reserve and is currently assigned to the U.S. Air Force Academy. Patricia blogs about her family's nomadic military life at Ground Control to Major Mom. Home is always where the Air Force sends her family, which for now is in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Hobbies include running, despite no one chasing her, sharing her love for Disney and Star Wars, and exploring the world with her boys. Ask her why the sky is blue at your own risk.