At its WWDC conference back in June, Apple announced that its upcoming iOS 6 would feature a turn-by-turn crowdsourced navigation app aimed at helping users beat traffic and find the best routes to their destinations. It's a feature that's reminiscent of an app already available for the iPhone: an Israeli-developed app called Waze, which recently celebrated its 20 millionth download.
The Apple announcement immediately led to speculation that Waze's days, at least on iOS, were numbered: wouldn't users automatically opt for an app already on their devices instead of downloading a third-party one? Even worse, would Apple put up with having an 'outside' app in the App Store that does the same thing as its core operating system?
There's no need for Waze fans to worry, according to Uri Levine, president and co-founder of Waze. "We intend to be around for a long time to come," he told Tel Aviv Tech. “We expect to grow on all platforms, including iOS."
Waze, available on Android, Symbian and BlackBerry as well as iOS, provides real-time, crowdsourced traffic reports, its own set of detailed road maps covering all of the US and most of Western Europe, easy turn-by-turn GPS-based voice navigation, alerts on accidents, road hazards, local businesses, and speed traps - and now, after its latest update, even the cheapest places to buy petrol.
Traffic information is gathered automatically, with Waze checking a driver's speed and uploading it very few seconds to determine whether they're breezing along, or stuck in a traffic jam. Map data is also gathered automatically, as Waze can use a device's GPS capabilities to determine which road they're driving on, adding new roads to its maps if they're not already there. And, users can, with the click of a button, report hazards or problems, which get sent out to other Wazers.
Apple vs Waze or Apple vs Google?
While Waze and iOS 6 may be overlapping in their capabilities, it's not clear that the company and Apple are competing. According to Levine, Apple isn't interested in picking a fight with Waze – but is instead seeking to declare its independence from Google.
"You have to remember that many iOS apps currently use Google Maps," said Levine. "Apple has been looking for an alternative to the Google Maps platform," with one of the reasons Apple is building a driving app into iOS being to develop its own set of base maps.
According to several reports, Apple and Waze have signed a cooperation agreement, in which Waze will license its well-developed map system to Apple. But, as would be expected, Levine declined to confirm the story. "We don't respond to rumours. When the time comes for an official announcement to be made by either party, we will make it," he says. An Apple spokesperson in Israel had no comment.
But what does the Apple announcement mean for Waze as an independent app? Does Levine expect a mass defection to the new iOS equivalent? Absolutely not, he says.
"The heart of Waze is its crowdsourcing," and the features Waze already provides, such as outsmarting traffic and the community of drivers who help each other out will remain the same, and improve in subsequent versions, Levine says. "Drivers aren't going to give that up."
Levine would not be drawn on future features, but he made it clear that social is where it's at for Waze, and that new features would be based on crowdsourced data that drivers would be interested in. "Part of what we are trying to do is find a 'middle way' between Google and Apple, and building, enhancing, and making use of the collective wisdom of the Waze community is the way to do that," he said.
Its social component is Waze's greatest asset: there's strength in numbers, and according to Levine the company plans to roll out more iterations of Waze's crowdsourcing capabilities. Waze's latest update helps drivers find the cheapest prices for petrol in their area, with drivers updating the system when they fill up. How about a feature with the best highway diners or fast food places, based on driver experience, or even sales or deals at local retailers that you might otherwise miss? With 20 million users in the community, the possibilities for crowdsourced information are huge.
And as comprehensive as Waze gets, the app will remain free, Levine adds, even though he realizes that a sizable chunk of Waze users would probably not mind dropping a few dollars to purchase it. "The advertising model has been working for us," Levine said, referring to pop-up ads for local businesses that appear on Waze maps. "You have to remember that the biggest app in the world – Facebook – is free too."
"We have a lot of advantages that make Waze unique," said Levine. "We will not have a problem in the future."