Automotive > Infotainment & Telematics Blog

'I Can't Believe It's Free'

by Roger Lanctot | 9月 17, 2015

That’s what my cab driver said yesterday on the way to Charles de Gaulle Airport in reference to Waze. He couldn’t believe such a wonderful navigation solution was available for free use.

We only got to talking about Waze after I noticed his Coyote device on the dashboard. Coyote’s dashboard-mounted devices alert drivers to mobile and fixed speed traps. The device is supported by a $20/month subscription service that this cab driver was happy to pay. “If Waze wanted to start charging me $12/month for their service, I’d pay it!” he added.

The cab driver went on to explain why Waze was so far superior to the embedded navigation that came with his Ford vehicle – equipped with MyFord Touch infotainment system. His main complaint – as he proceeded to attempt to enter an address while the car was in motion – was that the Ford user interface required him to enter each individual address element completely and was not aided by any auto-completion.

Also unavailable – or at least he hadn’t tried it – was speech destination entry. But the Ford system, an admittedly older generation unit, had really lost him when he turned it on and it took seconds to start up. In contrast, Waze on his mobile phone, not surprisingly, jumped to life instantly.

Also not surprisingly, Waze remembered his previous destination and also assisted him with auto-completion and/or frequent destination recognition offering suggestions as he entered addresses. Less clear was the accuracy of traffic information and the identification of the best route. But he further demonstrated, also on his phone, that he used Google traffic to get the big picture of traffic all around Paris and Waze for the local details.

It was a powerful, unexpected and astute demonstration of traffic information service delivery from an everyday user of the technology. Having seen v-trafic data in use around Paris in the past I asked the driver and he said Waze had erased any interest he previously had in v-trafic or any other traffic information source.

I also asked the driver why he bothered with the Coyote system for speed trap identification since this is one of the most popular applications of Waze.  He said Coyote did a much better job of identifying both fixed AND mobile speed trap locations - an important competitive note for Waze challengers.

This cab driver is only one of legions of everyday users of Waze who have become devoted fans to the exclusion of all other traffic and navigation service providers. But it is only the tip of the ice berg of what has become a bottom-up/top-down approach to converting traffic information users globally to the popular crowd-sourced traffic service.

Waze has made a point of reaching out to municipalities, departments of transportation, and radio and television stations around the world to offer assistance and enlist their support in building a better Waze. The strategy is paying off as TomTom, HERE and INRIX struggle to gain the attention of consumers while Waze sucks all the oxygen out of the space.

The four pillars of Waze’s grass roots campaign are:

  • Broadcast television and radio partners
  • Municipalities and local Departments of Transportation
  • Commuters
  • Taxi drivers

WTOP’s director of traffic, Jim Battagliese, is but one example of the Waze strategy. He says Waze has actively engaged with the station to share information and gather feedback. He says he has never been approached by TomTom, HERE or INRIX unless they want to sell him something.

Does Waze have shortcomings? Sure and they include:

  • Users note a multiple minute lag – but evidently not a deal breaker
  • Navigation routes still suspiciously favor secondary and tertiary roads
  • Waze is slow to identify when traffic has cleared
  • As a crowd-sourced application, Waze is vulnerable to occasional spoofing by users seeking to steer drivers away from their preferred routes

Those issues being acknowledged, Waze has been so successful that cities around the world have been moved to appeal to Waze to modify its routing suggestions. The most notable example is the City of San Francisco appealing to Waze to stop directing its users to Market Street during rush hour. The fact that the request was made at all is a remarkable recognition of Waze’s dominant position.

The popularity of Waze creates a stark contrast between the traffic information platforms being built for embedded use and the preferences and sophistication of users. Traffic modelers are looking for greater scientific rigor in analyzing and forecasting traffic, but consumers are looking for ease of use.

The pressure is on embedded navigation suppliers to deliver ever more accurate, sophisticated and nimble navigation systems with more powerful processors and eye pleasing and useful graphics to compete with Waze. On-board navigation systems that operate with or without wireless connections and can transition to off-board use on a mobile device have become the industry standard.

The future is bright for embedded/built-in navigation systems – but Waze is giving the industry a run for its money. The challenge for automakers and their suppliers is to focus on the functional advantages of built-in systems as far as safe and accurate operation are concerned. And more liberal and intuitive map updating strategies are essential as well.

In the end, it is hard to compete with free.

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