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PSA: Do Not Use Social GPS App Waze to Get Free Turn-by-Turn Directions on Your Smartphone

Wave LogoAlthough the venture capital funders are throwing their support—$37+ million of it—behind the social GPS app Waze, my conscience will not allow me to recommend this free turn-by-turn driving directions app to groovyPost readers. It’s not that I don’t want you to be able to get free user-driven maps, traffic reports and turn-by-turn voice prompts from your iPhone, BlackBerry or Android smartphone. It’s not that I don’t think that crowdsourcing traffic reports, speed traps and tips for alternate routes is a great idea. I just do not want you to die.

Let me reiterate: this is not a review of , the social GPS app that may put TomTom out of business and get the traffic reporter from your local news channel laid off. This is a public service announcement (PSA), urging you to please, please, do not download Waze for free and use it to not only get you from point A to point B faster, but also have fun while doing it. By using Waze, which is like a perfect marriage between Google Maps and Foursquare, you will get a groovy social layer to your daily commute, avoid traffic snags and eventually crash and die. So don’t use it. Here’s why:

Waze – The Social Driving App

What if your GPS was interactive? What if it let you communicate with drivers on your route? What if it let someone 10 miles down the highway from you tell you—in real time—that there was an accident and that you should get off at the next exit and go around? What if driving became social in a more meaningful way than honking your horn at jerk-wads who cut you off right in front of the Fort Pitt Tunnel and flashing your lights to alert passersby of speed traps?

Waze answers that question with it’s free app for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry. That answer is that driving would be more intuitive, more fun and more deadly.

Here’s how Waze explains itself:

On paper, Waze is absolutely brilliant. Long before cell phones were anything but a prop for Zack Morris, I always wondered why normal car drivers didn’t have some way of communicating with each other, just like truck drivers do with their CB radios. While it might open the door to some really nasty road rage induced comments, being able to know what the guy in the car next to you knows could save you time, money and perhaps even your life by warning you of hazardous road conditions.

This community-minded network of pooled traffic and driving route information is embodied in Waze’s best feature—its 100% user-driven maps. When users drive around with Waze open, the app feeds data back to the community. This lets other Waze users know how fast traffic is flowing and if there are traffic jams, etc. Waze users can also discover roads that aren’t in the Waze maps. After traversing these unknown roads, they’ll be added to the map for other Waze users to incorporate into their routes or see on their map.

While the Waze community at large is certainly useful, you can also associate yourself with specific commuter groups. For example, in Pittsburgh, there’s a Waze group for everyone who has the unfortunate burden of having to drive up Route 28 everyday. Aside from gaining a sense of camaraderie (and perhaps an obvious source for carpools), Waze commuter groups give you the most relevant information for the roads you drive everyday. It’s like a personalized traffic report.

Waze users can also report traffic accidents and other road hazards. Waze will then be able to tell you how long ago the event occurred, whether it’s on your route and other pertinent details. This is way more information than the radio traffic reports give you, and way more useful.

Waze - Free Social GPS w/ Turn by Turn Directions

You should notice from this screenshot, however, that it appears that a Waze user was the one who was involved in the accident. Although I wasn’t there, and she claims it wasn’t her fault, I can’t say that I’m surprised. I’ll discuss that later.

Getting Directions from Waze

Even if you’re not interested in the social functionality of Waze, you’ll certainly benefit from the free turn-by-turn GPS navigation that Waze gives you. With the TomTom iPhone app costing a whopping $49.99 and the Google Maps iPhone app being stubbornly limited, you’re not likely to find a better GPS app for the price.

Waze lets you search for addresses as well as location names within 200 miles driving distance (for now). For each route, it gives you a handful of alternatives and an ETA, both of which improve the more you use Waze.

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The onscreen icons tell you how many miles there are before your next turn, and the voice prompt is loud and clear, giving you plenty of warning. Waze voice prompts even work in the background, allowing you to listen to music or use another app and still get directions.  There are a number of languages and voices, including Santa, Elvis, a Boy Band and some other fun ones.

Waze - Free Social GPS w/ Turn by Turn Directions

Of course, Waze isn’t perfect—and I still feel a bit nervous trusting it as my sole navigator. For example, in the circuitous overpasses/underpasses/tunnels/bridges surrounding the Pittsburgh area, Waze had trouble figuring out if I was on top of the mountain or in the tunnel, or if I was on the parkway or on the road just beside it. That’s par for the course for most GPS’s, though. But luckily, if you have a smartphone, you also have Google Maps as a backup, in case Waze gets too confused. But unlike Google Maps, Waze can update your route automatically if you take a wrong turn. In terms of automatically reporting traffic conditions, I noticed that there are some false positives. For instance, Waze has trouble telling the difference between a traffic jam (what it calls a “complete standstill”) and a normal stoplight. Also, Waze is quite the battery sucker, due to its constant use of your phone’s GPS. But overall, Waze works very, very well for a free app.

Waze – A Deadly Game to Play

I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you again that this is not a review of Waze—this is a warning about the deadly consequences of using Waze. Taking cues from Foursquare, Waze has added a gaming element to their social driving app that allows you to rack up points. You get points for driving a certain amount of miles, discovering roads and routes and, most dangerously, driving over little goodies that appear on your route. It’s kind of like you’re playing a giant game of Pacman. I’m not saying that Waze’s gaming aspect isn’t fun—quite the opposite, actually. And that’s why it’s so dangerous.

Waze - Free Social GPS w/ Turn by Turn Directions

The whole time you’re driving, Waze is dinging and donging, scattering candy across the map like it was a parade and sending you notifications about achievements and opportunities via popups. And even though you know it’s just a silly game, and even though you know that sound is just the noise you hear when you get +2 points for driving over a lollipop, it’s incredibly hard to resist looking at your screen. To make matters worse, some of the prompts only go away if you touch a tiny little X—and in spite of the fact that we all know better, it’s nearly impossible to resist clearing off a notification from any screen.

Waze - Free Social GPS w/ Turn by Turn Directions

Waze is aware of the dangers of distracted driving, and in an effort to keep you from making a poor decision, they disable typing while the car is moving. That’s all well and good, except that it (A) doesn’t make sense if you’re the passenger in the car—which is really the smartest way to use this app, or any GPS and (B) it actually does let you type while driving if you dismiss the warning message.

I understand the allure of social gaming in location-based apps. I know it’s all the rage, but when it comes to driving, it just doesn’t add value. But it could lead to fatalities, which haven’t been a good thing in gaming since Mortal Kombat. Also, in spite of the enthusiasm from VC backers, Waze isn’t profitable yet—they plan on selling data to traffic companies and including targeted advertising in the app, which will only add to the distraction.

Frankly, I’m surprised that this app is even allowed. If it’s unsafe to talk on the phone while driving, and it’s unsafe to text while driving, why wouldn’t it be unsafe to be on the lookout for tasty candy and snapping photos of ducks crossing the road while driving?

So, because I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night without doing so, I’m going to warn you one last time—in spite of how groovy Waze is, in spite of the fact that Waze is exactly what commuters have needed for decades, in spite of the fact that Waze is one of the best free turn-by-turn GPS navigation apps you can get, do not use it.  Because you will die.

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14 Responses to PSA: Do Not Use Social GPS App Waze to Get Free Turn-by-Turn Directions on Your Smartphone

  1. Zaniel December 17, 2010 at 1:28 pm #

    Lol

    Well, I don’t want to die either jack but I’m not sure if your serious or not so I’m gonna play with it this weekend anyway.

    One question, are there any privacy issues with Waze? Are they going to sell my driving Patterns to someone so they can put up billboards on my drive to work? Or perhaps tell my gf where I parked my car last night?

    • groovinJackman December 18, 2010 at 7:49 am #

      That’s a good question, and I’d have to say, almost certainly yes they’ll be selling your driving data. But I can’t imagine any kind of real profitable and malicious use for it. My wife was worried that someone might be able to tell when we were leaving home (thus when a good time to rob it would be), but you can put your identity to anonymous so no one knows it’s you.

      But yeah, I think Waze is going to have to start selling targeted advertising in the app–hopefully nothing as annoying as popups like “YOU ARE 5 MILES FROM AN ARBY’S!! HOW ABOUT A BIG BEEF N CHEDDAR?” Probably will be something more like, “Hey, Pittsburghers–interested in some steeler’s tickets?” Or if they are really clever, something like, “Looks like you’ve driven 5,000 miles–how about an oil change? here’s a coupon for $5 off at Pennzoil”

      I’d consider that a small price to pay for free turn-by-turn directions.

    • groovinJackman December 18, 2010 at 7:52 am #

      …oh and yes, I am dead serious about not recommending this app to ANYONE who is driving without a co-pilot. It’s just too distracting–with the points and the bonus items and the notifications and whatnot.

      The Santa turn-by-turn prompts are hilarious, however. If you are using this app, I recommend firing it up, then allowing it to run in the background. You’ll still get the directions and the points, but you won’t be tempted to watch the map for snowflakes and candy canes, rather than watching the road for motorcyclists and wild turkeys (both big hazards in Pennsylvania).

  2. Shockersh December 18, 2010 at 8:08 pm #

    So I grabbed it Jack and so far, I’m not dead yet. That being said, it is very distracting but I have a simple way to set it on my dash so I can use it while I drive.

    Anyway, thnx for the FYI on the app.

  3. Imogene Love December 23, 2010 at 6:12 pm #

    So I grabbed it Jack and so far, I’m not dead yet. That being said, it is very distracting but I have a simple way to set it on my dash so I can use it while I drive.Anyway, thnx for the FYI on the app.

  4. Andres January 9, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

    mmmm… I loose my time reading this, is not dangerous. why American´s have to scare with everything….

    • MrGroove January 10, 2011 at 6:15 pm #

      Well…. I thought it was kinda funny ;)

  5. Matt January 25, 2012 at 8:49 am #

    ANY iPhone app is dangerous while driving as long as the user looks at his screen. To say it is “it’s incredibly hard to resist looking at your screen” is the same for any iPhone App that has a dynamic display, not just Waze. Current navigation systems do the same thing. My Garmin is constanly popping up ads for Best Western. I just chose not to look, as any safe driver would. Blaming Waze instead of the user is much like saying that the gun is what kills people, not the person. Although I agree with your premise, car makers are constantly putting more and more “features” in your car that distract you. Ford’s SYNC and MyTouch are two examples; and Ford’s SYNC equipped cars have a high safety rating. Once again, it is how the user choses to use the technology, not the technology itself. I find Waze incredibly useful, and I rarely look at the screen. The messages dismiss themselves, and I am under no obligation to input anything. I set my destination at the start of my route, and listen through my speakers for any warning. I glance at Waze every so often where it’s mounted just as I would a GPS.

    I expect more and more of this technology to become ubiquitous in our everyday lives, including our vehicles. How we use it safely is our responsiblity and duty as drivers.

  6. Matt January 25, 2012 at 8:51 am #

    retro

  7. boat_bucket April 27, 2012 at 1:41 am #

    (From the waze.com privacy policy)

    “Meta-data that we collect

    Waze collects information about the use of the Services. For example, Waze may record the frequency and scope of your use of the Services, the duration of your sessions, the web pages that you visit, information that you read, content that you use or create, advertisements that you view or click on, your communications with other users and third parties, the Internet protocol (IP) address and the name of the domain that serve you to access the Services, and the geographic location of the computer system that you are using to log-in. Such data is usually automatically collected and stored in log files of the Services’ computer servers.”

    They record everything you do on your phone!!!

    Also…

    “If Waze reasonably believes that you have breached the Terms of Use, or abused your rights to use the Services, or performed any act or omission that Waze reasonably believes to be violating any applicable law, rules, or regulations. Waze may share your information in these cases, with law enforcement agencies and other competent authorities and with any third party as may be required to handle any result of your wrongdoing;”

    AND

    “If Waze is required, or reasonably believes that it is required by law to share or disclose your information; “… it will do so

  8. captain June 11, 2012 at 7:04 am #

    I think Pandora will kill you. Watching the album art display distracts me. Oh my god, I looked down, there’s a car in my lane.

    auuuugghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

    Wow, hell looks a lot like Trump Towers.

  9. stonzee February 14, 2013 at 11:53 am #

    I use Waze and I do not look at the screen when it dings or dongs. I just keep driving.

  10. Renato May 1, 2013 at 5:42 pm #

    Man, how wrong were you back in 2010!! Waze is simply brillant and far better than any navigation around! It saves me time to joy other things of my life rather being jammed in traffic!! Watch out for what you write about, time passes and you can be exposed as a narrowmindedtechguy

  11. Mike July 23, 2013 at 12:04 pm #

    I agree with this article. I was excited to start using Waze recently – until I realized how distracting the app was. Social networking + 1 ton of metal travelling at speed + busy streets = dead people.

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