Not wowed by Waze . . . yet

Conceptually, I am a big fan of Waze – a social application that provides free GPS/directional functionality based on user input and driving patterns/behavior. Lots of the time it works like a charm – especially in providing real-time updates for road and traffic conditions. Often when I’m using it and sitting in traffic it will ask if I’m stuck in traffic, giving me a “yes” or “no” choice to update other drivers. It’s pretty cool.

What isn’t so cool are the crazy routes it provides. The other day I was on my way to a party about 20 miles from my home. I put the address into Google Maps and was told it would take about 30 minutes to get there. As I drove I realized that in the dark and pouring rain there was no way I was going to be able to read the directions. Instead, I pulled over and entered the address into Waze on my iPhone. I had to try twice – the first time it wasn’t able to come up with a route. Soon it did though and I was off.

I drove past the turn that Google had suggested – instead following the Waze directions. While I was skeptical I was willing to go with the flow. That was a mistake. All GPS systems tell you it’s got a margin of error or that if should be used for informational purposes only or some other disclaimer. I accept that. But Waze needs to do a much better job.

Several times the verbal turn-by-turn directions would instruct me to make a turn only to have the map start beeping at me that I had gone off the route. On other occasions the map showed me being on the route – but once again I’d get the beep and warning that I was off-route. What? Many, many times the route had me making giant loops when direct ones were available. And often when I intersected the route the system gave no indication I was back on track.

In the end, the trip took me well over an hour – pretty much exclusively due to the poor performance of Waze. Long meandering detours, incorrect alerts that I was off route, crazy recalculations were all part of the night’s drive.

Getting home – on the other hand – was a snap. The host was able to give me directions that involved only four turns . . .

I’m totally giving Waze the benefit of the doubt. As they say, the system will only improve as more people participate. But there are problems (incorrect off-route alerts, map and turn-by-turn out of sync) that aren’t due to the number of participants and until those get cleaned up it’s going to be difficult for people to use this system.