Waze is My New Favorite App

Traffic Jam on the Highway; why Waze is my new favorite app

Photo courtesy of Donald Rogers (moflytier on Flickr.)

I love Android and Google Maps. I’ve used them for years and would have gotten lost many times if it weren’t for the free turn-by-turn navigation. Also, Maps keeps getting better with features like its traffic view, and for a while my only complaint was that it wouldn’t remember my decision to avoid toll roads. I really didn’t know where it could improve any further.

Then I began living and working near DC.

Enter Waze. The first I heard about it was actually through Google maps. For a while now, accidents have shown up in Maps as red icons that, when touched, have a description like “Accident on I-66 reported by Waze app.” Last week I got curious and installed it, not too sure what to expect. I also discovered online that Google acquired Waze just this past June, but as of now it is still being developed separately.

This isn’t a full app review by any means, so it suffices to say that I played around with it, ran it once or twice instead of Google Maps/Navigation, and then went back to what I was used to. I didn’t have an immediate need for the community features, plus Google’s native apps are cleaner and more familiar to me (which is important for something you glance at while driving.) That’s not to say I won’t keep getting to know it, because it certainly does have some neat features.

This morning, however, thanks to a light dusting of flurries, Google Maps and Waze each showed that my normal route to work (I-270 and I-495) was at a standstill. Google estimated about a 1 hour 15 minute commute (30 minutes longer than normal), but having noticed its inaccurate predictions when traffic is backed up, I knew it would be closer to 1 hour 45 minutes. Google Maps can give alternate routes, but all of the alternatives it offered somehow involved sitting still for over an hour on 270 and 495. So, after a 20 minute excursion to get gas, I decided to try Waze.

Immediately, Waze had me turn off the main road I was on. It then took me along many back roads and even through a subdivision, but it got me to work in just another 40 minutes. It even warned me about a few speed cameras along the way. While my route would not have been practical most days, I am confident that it saved me at least half an hour this morning. Given that alone, I can safely say Waze is my new favorite app as far as time-saving goes.

Google is new to the rerouting-traffic game, only suggesting changes mid-route to all users starting this month. (According to TechBuffalo, the feature has been rolling out since August – unsurprisingly, two months after their acquisition of Waze.) It didn’t work out for me today, but now that they own Waze, time will tell if they start getting a little more creative with their routes during rush hour. For now, I will use Waze when traffic backs up, as well as while traversing unfamiliar Maryland roads that have speed cameras everywhere.

Lastly, to Google: please take a hint from Waze and allow Maps/Navigation to remember my choice to avoid toll roads! I would love you even more for it.

Update: I’ve used Waze nearly every day for the last two weeks, and in addition to a few police I’ve often been cautioned about accidents, potholes, objects on the road, fog, and cars parked on the shoulder. Sometimes the “pothole” or “car parked on shoulder” alerts are unnecessary, but on more than a few occasions the other warnings have been preceded by sudden traffic slowdowns. Unfortunately, I’ve also already reported three accidents myself soon after they happened, two of which involved a flipped vehicle and caused slowdowns or closed lanes.

My only complaint is that in populous areas, especially on the highway, the interface gets quite cluttered. The map displays icons for other Waze users, and with well over 36 million Wazers in the U.S. by now, that can be a little much. There are also often several icons scattered along half-mile stretches of road each warning about the same pothole, and during peak traffic hours you can count on someone feeling the need to report “heavy traffic” every mile. You can customize what alerts your phone warns you about, so I plan to mess with those settings in an effort to filter out some of the noise.

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