Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Waze is cutesy mapping and navigation

Crowdsourcing is something fairly new.  It requires everyday people to help supply information.  Waze, the maps and navigation utility app, uses crowdsourcing to get the job done.

Since I've been on a trip from Eastern Indiana to the Orlando, Florida area, I thought I'd try the app on iOS.  A lot of people raved about it before Apple brought their new maps to iOS, and since then, the suggestions have become a call to arms, virtually.

So, here I was on a trip I estimated at about 1000 miles one way.  I've driven it probably 12 times and lived in the Orlando area for 11 years, so there was hardly a chance of being truly lost, and that's a good time to try something new.

I was somewhat amused by the marshmallow like character with the teething device to show a newbie.  There are many different levels of users.

As I drove from my town to Hamilton, OH a couple of times, and then, to Cincinnati, it was somewhat helpful.  Of course, the maps will allow you to see the roads ahead, so you can make wiser decisions about lane changes before you try to cross 3 lanes full of traffic to make your turn on time.

I noticed a couple of problems:
  • At an intersection, it will sometime ask you if you're in traffic, when you're stopped at a red light "We detected a slowdown.  Are you in traffic?"  They need a red light button to tap.
  • It often changes the orientation 90 degrees and then, to 180 degrees from your actual orientation, showing you headed from whence you came.  Of course, it flips you back when you start to move.  It's rather dis-orienting.

Driving from Cincinnati, OH on the trip to Chattanooga, TN, I didn't notice much of a problem.  You can warn of objects on the road, on the side of the road, and also warn of police.  Considering shredded tires and cars slightly off to the side, this can be advantageous, especially in pouring rain and darkness.  I've noticed that the police are sometime not where it says that they are, so maybe the police are using the app too?

Most of my experience from Chattanooga to Orlando, FL was similar until I left I-75.  I had not lived in the area for four years, and I wasn't sure that the tolls hadn't increased a great deal.  Remembering that they didn't take bills over $20, I decided to go toll free, even at a longer ride.

When I tried the navigation, just outside Orlando near Ocoee, it gave me two options: use Florida's Turnpike or use Florida's Turnpike.  I didn't investigate further for the same reason.  It never gave me an option to take a local road, and I couldn't just tap "No tolls" or "Local roads only" because there was no such option.  You can go into settings and choose to not use toll roads.  That will work fine in Florida but getting across Pennsylvania is tough without the PA Turnpike.

I asked a question in the forums, especially after I ended up taking the toll road partway and it was directing me toward an exit that was marked electronic tolls only.  The first answer I got was rude, like "It's not an auto pilot.  You need to use your brain."  That's a great first impression.  (My second impression of him was worse.)  I've been using navigation apps for 6 years and someone (who was an area Waze manager), tells me I'm an idiot for expecting an app not to give me ridiculous information.  I guess because it's free, I should give it more latitude?  Telenav gave me bad advice and I had to ignore it also, since I was going in the correct direction.  (Why does Telenav always start by telling me to "turn around"?)  In any case, had I no clue about Florida's Turnpike, I might have trusted the app.  Instead, I took an exit I knew to be safe.

If this is all about the people, and there are so many smartasses using the app, I think there isn't much reason to expect real help.

I was interested but now, seeing that it's cute and amateur-ish, I'm inclined to just use Telenav again, regardless of their issues.  There are other alternatives also like Garmin, TomTom (suppliers of maps/map components to Telenav and Apple), and since yesterday, Nokia's Navteq mapping solution Here.  Eventually, Apple's data-conscious maps will work just fine.  Google's maps are still available through a browser, if I want to be at the wrong block on the wrong side of the road, wondering why the road name doesn't match.

I've tried Nokia's Here and it's not here yet.  I can't access my contacts and that makes it more difficult.  Obviously, nothing is great.

Update 2014.12.05: I've used Waze from coast to coast and it is good enough, especially after it was acquired by Google.  It has become better in searching for businesses, for navigation.  Reporting problems has become more useful.  I'm amused that it asks me if there is a slowdown when I'm at a stop light that is red.

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