Waze – A New Appreciation

For the longest time, I avoided using Waze.  I tried it – a large amount of people online suggest this app for their daily commute.  But I didn’t like the user interface – it seemed childish and unrefined.  I much preferred the look and feel of Google Maps.  After all, Waze gets its map data from Google Maps, so why would I use an inferior product?

I decided I’d give it another chance a few weeks ago, when there was a serious accident on the major highway that I use to get home every night.  I had heard that the biggest plus to Waze was that it was smart about suggesting alternate, faster routes; basically, I needed it to give me a detour.  Unfortunately it wasn’t too helpful in that regard (it wasn’t aware of the accident that closed the highway).  BUT this is not where the story ends.

More User Data Improves the Experience

I opted to try it out a little more when I was working in a different city on business last week.  I could see a world of difference.  Obviously, Waze works much better when there are more users on the road.  It didn’t really give me any crazy alternate routes, but one feature I found neat was that it gave me a pretty good approximation of how long I’d be stuck in a current traffic jam.

You can see more details at this link: “Waze knows how long you’ll be stuck in traffic”, complete with a relevant screenshot.  Basically, it gives you a little bar, reminiscent of a health bar in a video game, that tells you how long you can expect to be stuck in the current traffic jam.  It really helps to put your time spent on the road in perspective.  What maybe feels like forever, because you’re barely moving, might only be two minutes.  Relax.

The ETA Is Very Accurate

What was most helpful for me – because the routes I take are generally straightforward and don’t benefit from alternate routes – was the ETA.  Generally speaking, the ETA that Waze gave me was incredibly accurate.  The accuracy comes from a combination of user data and your GPS positioning.

For example, when you plug in your route it will calculate your estimated time of arrival based on current road conditions and road speed limits.  But it keeps updating this based on your GPS position & speed – giving you a surprisingly accurate ETA.   I assume that it also takes into consideration your previous driving habits, but I’m not too sure about that.

I find the ETA that Waze provides to be a lot more useful than the estimated duration that Google Maps gives you.

Drawbacks

The major issue I have with Waze is that it largely requires user input to report accidents, speed traps, and so forth.  In my home province, it is illegal to interact with devices (other than one or two buttons to answer a call), so being encouraged by the app to use the app while driving doesn’t sit right with me.

And like I said before, the main use of the app comes from having other “Wazers” on the road.  If you’re in an area that doesn’t have a dense population, or doesn’t have a lot of people using Waze, it might not be much more useful than just using Google Maps.

I much prefer the look and “feel” of Google Maps, and it already gives you traffic data.  So living where I do, which falls under the category of “not densely populated without a lot of Wazers”, Waze isn’t going to get a lot of use from me.

Overall – A Good App

I hesitate to call this a great app, but it is definitely a good app and useful.  I can get past the cartoon-y UI (which I feel has actually improved a bit since the last time I used it), accepting the fact that it’s partly because it’s optimized for a driving experience.  If you’re interested in shaving a few minutes off of your drive, or staying updated on what’s going on along your regular route, Waze is definitely going to help you.

Next week on the blog: not so much tech!  Some book and TV reviews next week.

Google can read my mind.

Google really blows me away sometimes, and I honestly feel like it (the search engine) can read my mind.  Logically I know that it learns based on my search history and browsing habits, but I’m still blown away by the results I get from daily use.

As an example, for some reason I was trying to think about a cartoon I watched when I was in high school or university.  I knew the title of it was in the back of my head somewhere – it had something to do with a “six”, and the lead character was a genetically engineered heroine (or a robot, I can’t recall exactly).  When I couldn’t think of the show name, I turned to Google.

teletoon cartoon about genetically modified heroine
teletoon cartoon about genetically modified heroine

So I typed “teletoon cartoon about genetically modified heroine” – because that’s the best way I could think of to describe the show.  I expected I might get some results at the top close to what I was looking for, but what absolutely surprised me was that the first result was exactly what I was looking for.

The Wikipedia entry for "Cybersix" was the first result!
The Wikipedia entry for “Cybersix” was the first result!

I’m not going to be talking about the show today, but I highly encourage you to read about it.  The point is, I was looking for the Wikipedia entry for this show, but I couldn’t remember the name for the life of me.  Based on that vague search term I was able to find exactly what I was looking for.

I’ve done this with other search terms too.  I can’t remember them all right now, but the result is the same: I type in some broad search terms, indicating about as much as I can remember, and Google is able to serve up what I’m looking for.  Sometimes it’s not perfect, but more often than not it works.

The point I’m trying to make is that I’ve discovered today (and during the process of setting up this blog) that keywords are really important online if you want to get your stuff found.  It’s basic knowledge, but it still surprises me every day.  I can’t wait until Google’s Assistant is fully baked into my phone, instead of just on Allo.