Waze – Free iPhone Directions Application

Playing around this weekend, I discovered a neat and fun little app for the iPhone.

A lot of new apps have came out for the iPhone lately that are based around driving directions. TomTom came out with theirs for $100, and Navigon is another popular one that runs $90. But, if you want to try out something a little different, this one is free.

iPhone image

Waze is a free driving directions app, with a twist. Basically, the maps on it are “incomplete”. That is, they’ve got the map data, but like all maps, the data is inaccurate. So, to get the data to be better, they’re enlisting your help.

How do you help? Simple. You use the app in the car, then drive around. As you do so, the GPS will be reading your location and noting that there is indeed a street there. It makes it kinda fun to confirm streets in this way since a little Pac-Man like figure appears, eating dots on the map where you are driving, and giving you “points”. The points aren’t useful for much, except a ranking system with everybody else using the app, but it’s fun nevertheless.

So what else? Well, obviously it’ll do driving directions. However, when I tried it to get to my friend’s place at Cooper-Young fest this last weekend, it was laughably wrong. It suggested an 8 mile trek through ridiculous parts of town for no reason. I drove there the normal route instead, letting it complain that I was “off route” all the way and listening to the Waze-pacman gathering up the points as he munched his way down the road. However, something odd happened then. On the way back, when I turned it on, it knew that route. Investigating today, I’ve found that it really doesn’t like to route people on routes that haven’t been “confirmed” yet very much. So, since I’d confirmed that route already, it picked it for my way home.

But there’s a bonus to all that. By confirming the route, it’s getting more than street maps. It’s also getting average speeds. So it can use that information to give optimal routes, knowing how fast each street tends to be.

iPhone Event Reporting

You can even more than that though. Along the way, you can report events too.

An event is like an auto accident, or a speed trap. Whenever you see one of these, you can touch the report button and report one quickly. If you’re totally stopped in traffic, then you can also type in a short message (it won’t let you do that while moving), and the message will instantly be sent, where other drivers (and their iPhone’s) can see it. Those drivers will then get routed a different way, possibly saving them some time.

Or, even better, somebody else reports a problem, and you get to save some time.

Downsides to the app: Battery life. Like any other GPS app, it sucks the battery right down. You’ll need a car charger to run the thing. Probably a quality iPhone mount too. It does do landscape mode as well, and hidden down in the options is a “3D mode”, which makes the map lay back and look like the more expensive iPhone driving apps, if you prefer that sort of thing. The 2D map is easier to read, to me.

From what I’m reading, Waze has only been around a month or so, and not many people are using it. As far as I can tell, almost nobody in Memphis is using it, since almost all the roads are unconfirmed. But it would be pretty neat if everybody driving around was sharing data like this, what with Memphis traffic being what it is. I sure wouldn’t mind getting routed around half the crap I see on the streets around here.

If you’ve wanted to try out a driving directions app without spending $100 or so, then you cannot beat free. So I highly recommend it. I’m using it all the time now.