Waze: a disruptive app that mashes social and free GPS navigation

Apps have revolutionised the mobile sector in many ways. They have changed the way people consume content, interact with their environment and talk to each other. The app ecosystem has lead to some extremely talented developers taking to markets across devices with brand new intuitive ideas that disrupt the traditional way of thinking whilst fulfilling needs that end-users never knew they had.

One such product of this modern app ecosystem is Waze, an interesting app that offers free turn-by-turn GPS navigation with a twist: it’s community-based. Essentially drivers can easily report events affecting roads, such as police presence, traffic jams, accidents and hazards. Waze can then relay this information back to the end-user on the constantly updated navigational live map throughout their journey. From there, Waze showcases an even more useful trick; the ability to look for alternative routes based on this information mid-journey.

Waze have an interesting explanation of their app here:

Users aren’t forced in to contributing, but the integration with Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook and other geo-gaming elements seems to be attracting end-users to get involved. The idea that users are incredibly important to the entire premise of the app could also be a strong catalyst for encouragement.

Relying on user-generated content is usually a risky strategy, but because the idea and branding is so strong it works well. Millions of drivers are benefiting from the app on a day to day basis thanks to the community essentially becoming an autonomous “hive-mind”-style network. This is both a good and bad thing, as it means that the end-users end up doing most of the work but the data might not always be reliable. However, we have yet to find any evidence of users hoaxing the system (as of writing). The capability is certainly there to fool the app, but it appears the user-base values the service too much to even think of such a nefarious scheme.

What’s also worth noting is that the information Waze provides is completely relevant for its primary users: drivers. Waze has cornered a niche and have made sure its service is focused on serving that niche by resisting the temptation for advertising or promotion of other businesses. It’s a refreshing approach and goes against how most companies generate revenue, but it does raise questions over the sustainability of the project going forward.

Despite these questions and some in-app design hiccups/bugs, Waze has developed a large community in the US and is currently making in-roads in the UK. It looks set to change the services GPS providers usually deliver to their customers and has managed to leapfrog its competitors in the smartphone space because the team at Waze realised that traditional GPS apps weren’t fully using the technology open to them.

Mobile devices offer app developers a plethora of opportunities and smartphone users are increasing in bigger numbers than ever before. Innovative ideas are being rewarded as apps are now finding huge audiences across multiple devices. Moreover, the barrier to entry has become much lower thanks to the variety of smartphone OS’ that are now available for end-users.

Android, Symbian and to a lesser extent Windows Phone have managed to deliver smartphones across the pricing spectrum, much to the delight of end-users in tough economic times. On top of those experiences is the iPhone, which is still enjoying record sales numbers thanks to the App Store and the premium-branded Apple ecosystem. It seems that there’s a smartphone OS for everyone, which is fantastic news for the entire app industry.

Emerging markets, such as those found in Asian regions and Africa (for example) present new opportunities and challenges for the app ecosystem but you could argue that times haven’t been better for this previous cottage-industry. Apps are now big business, and fundamentally dictate how users interact with their devices. Thanks to their overall success in smartphones, the app ecosystem is hitting PCs, TVs and even more devices in a big way this year.

What’s (currently) your favourite smartphone app and where do you see the app ecosystem heading to next? Let us know any thoughts you may have.

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