Waze is a free mobile navigation application which uses crowdsourcing to build its maps. Simply by having the application open and running, drivers using GPS-enabled smartphones can contribute map data to Waze where it then becomes part of the base map. Through passive tracking features which monitor speed, direction, and starts and stops, Waze can also identify traffic patterns to warn you of jams ahead. Drivers who want to take a more active roll in contributing content on hazards and accidents can do so from the app...although hopefully, not while driving.
At this week's DEMOfall 09 conference, Waze announced that their mobile application is now available on the Windows Mobile and Symbian platforms in addition to iPhone and Android. Blackberry, however, is still in the works.
What's most interesting about Waze is how it uses the power of the crowd to build its map database. Just by driving along with the application open, users are contributing data to Waze. Although this does make the service somewhat dependent on building critical mass in order to be successful, the company is confident they can do so. That's because Waze originally launched in Israel and in less than a year's time, they already have 91% of the country mapped. Here in the U.S., that process will obviously take longer, but Waze believes they'll have at least one metropolitan area completed in the next three months - the San Francisco Bay area, of course.
Since the application is designed to provide traffic alerts, one of its features allows users to contribute additional information like whether that's a speed trap ahead or just a fender bender slowing things down. Users can upload photos, too, so other Waze drivers can actually see what's causing the problem. This feature is a little disconcerting, though, since it does require the driver to interact with the phone while behind the wheel. However, Waze encourages the use of these features only when stopped, or even better, by having a passenger enter this info instead. (At least they disabled typing while the car is in motion. Whew!)
Also new to Waze is turn-by-turn directions, now available for free within the application. That feature alone should encourage more users to give it a shot, especially those who haven't purchased their own standalone GPS-based navigation device yet.
Early adopters can download the free mobile application from the company's homepage here. Just remember: this service only arrived in the U.S. this May so at this point, it may be more about helping build the map data than it is about using what's already there.