Traffic App for iPhone and Droid: Waze Will Help You Beat the Schuylkill

Drive this way, not that way.

Ever wish you could pick a route home based on how bad traffic will be 15 minutes from now? Waze, the GPS-based navigation app that has taken the tech world by storm in the past couple of months, is here to help.

I downloaded Waze last fall, on a lark while looking for a navigation app after I purchased my first iPhone, and not only have I not gotten lost since, but it’s completely changed the way I commute every day.

The app, which is available for free download on the iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and Windows mobile platforms, is similar to Google Maps and other navigation applications in sporting live maps, GPS capability, verbalized turn-by-turn navigation and other such standard features.

But the twist is, Waze uses crowdsourcing both to make users aware of traffic and accidents up ahead, as well as to calculate time and distance to their destination. It’s incredibly easy, too—with the push of one button, a user can report an accident, a traffic jam (with degrees from “moderate” to “heavy” to “complete standstill”) or even an inconveniently situated traffic cop.

Each report shows up on screen as a clickable icon; other users’ icons act as warnings for you, and contribute to an algorithm that calculates how long your commute will take. Compared to other such apps I’ve used, the algorithm is shockingly accurate, and the more people join Waze, the more reliable the results will get.

I live in Delaware County and work in Center City, so I have multiple options each day for routes to and from work. Each afternoon, as I’m leaving my office, I fire up Waze, click the icon for “home,” and I’m given the top three options for the quickest trip, complete with any incidents I may contend with on the way home.

I-95 will take 32 minutes, but I-76 will take 40 due to an accident at the Conshohocken Curve? The decision is made for me. It sure beats my primary pre-Waze strategies, which were “flip a coin” and “avoid the Schuylkill no matter what.” Waze and apps like it have already begun to make such technologies as the standalone GPS unit—not to mention the Car Periscope from Curb Your Enthusiasm—totally obsolete.

Waze, which is made by the Israeli company of the same name, has (according to the Verge) 12 million users worldwide and has gotten waves of good press in recent months, from the tech press to local TV news. And Waze made more news last week when it added a hands-free option allowing users to make reports by speaking. This solves Waze’s one glaring drawback: the potentially dangerous temptation to use the app while behind the wheel.

Waze is the best kind of app, taking something that used to be difficult and making it easy, and doing it for free to boot.

Stephen Silver writes about technology for such websites as Dealerscope.com and Technologytell.com. Follow him on Twitter here.

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