Currently reading: Crowdsourced app Waze seeks stranglehold of sat-nav market
With 100 million monthly users already, including 2.1 million in the UK, the app's makers feel they can become a market leader

The maker of crowdsourced sat-nav app Waze believes that it can become a market leader through a series of deals with car manufacturers.

The Google-owned app uses real-time data gathered from users to help refine traffic routes and currently has 100 million monthly users, including 2.1 million in the UK. The app initially only worked on phones, but has been available to use on car infotainment systems through Android Auto, and shortly will be via Apple CarPlay. Making it more easily accessible through infotainment systems, especially in countries where smartphone use while driving is banned, could be key to growth.

Waze will also be featured directly on Ford’s Sync 3 in-car infotainment system, and the app’s makers are currently negotiating deals with other car makers. Waze believes such deals can help it reach one billion global users.

“We want to partner with everyone and anyone,” said UK country manager Finlay Clark. “Consumers will choose what sat-nav they want and we want to be an option. We are talking to all OEMs about how Waze can work on whatever system they are using.”

The key difference between Waze and other app or in-car navigation systems is how it mixes crowd-sourced GPS data with machine learning. The app gathers anonymised real-time data that it uses to build maps and then calculate traffic flows. Users are also able to report delays and hold-ups. In some countries, it also displays crowd-sourced fuel prices.

Then global editors – Waze says there are about 500,000 of them – feed information on traffic delays into the system to help generate data its makers believe is more accurate than other navigation apps’. Some editors spend up to five hours a day editing traffic delays in Waze, and a hierarchy of senior editors are in place to ensure updates are accurate.

“Waze is based around the idea of a participatory community, the idea that if you want to beat traffic, we need to work together,” said Clark. “We see the map editors as an extension to our business.”

Waze was established in 2006 as FreeMap Israel, and was rebranded three years later. It expanded into the UK in 2011 and now has around 50 UK editors. It has also secured a deal with Transport for London: in return for giving TfL its traffic data, Waze is fed info on London road closures and delays. Around half of Waze’s UK users are based in the capital.

We’re appy and we know it: 

We’ve seen many an app or handheld navigation device come along that purports to spell the end of the in-car sat-nav as we know it, but Waze really could be the tool. The beauty of Waze – beyond the fact that it’s free – is in how it constantly learns and adapts to a route you’re on, and is reliable in doing so.

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We’ve all heard of a ‘sat-nav route’, the type that sends you up a one- way street the wrong way or over the edge of a cliff, but Waze is sensible in its routing, trustworthy in how it adapts and has a user interface that gives the impression it’s live and learning. For example, it’s eerily good at knowing the M3 is moving at only 37mph in the morning commute in exactly 900 yards time, and thus the traffic slows to 37mph 900 yards later.

I can’t recall the last time I plugged in a route into the typically £1000-plus OEM sat-navs. If only Waze didn’t erase half my phone’s battery by the time I’ve reached my destination... 

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An unfortunate side effect is

An unfortunate side effect is that navigating around urban streets is becoming weaponised.

It used to be that only locals knew local backstreet routes, keeping minor, residential roads relatively free of through traffic. Now Waze is enabling these to become rat runs, prompting some local authorities to close roads to through traffic altogether.