When Waze GPS & traffic — Social, fun! came out in 2011, Appolicious reviewer Nick Nebelsky took issue with the app’s hands-on requirements writing, “it's still a lot of work, and is asking a lot of the driver.” At the time, I agreed whole-heartedly that Waze, while containing some useful information, was a massive safety issue unless you had a passenger to run the app for you. Now, a year later, Waze, which runs on iPhone, has rolled out a massive overhaul that includes safety-friendly hands-free operation.
If you aren’t familiar with Waze, it’s a navigation app, with real-time crowd-sourced traffic and hazard information. The more you Waze, the better its data, so having a large community of users — Chicago has this — is paramount to get the most from the app. Before, Wazers had to manually enter in the type of report they were sharing (GPS is used to indicate your location), but it’s clearly counterintuitive to be messing around on your phone while operating a moving vehicle. Now, Waze has activated support for the iPhone’s built-in proximity sensor to enable hands-free voice reporting.
There are still some kinks in the system, but I tested new Waze on a jaunt to the suburbs this weekend. You’ll want to make sure you enable voice commands in Waze’s in-app settings panel. If your device is in portrait mode — proximity isn’t supported in landscape mode — you can hover your hand over the screen. Ignore the bit about tapping your finger three times: It doesn’t work, and it’s not needed. Hovering your hand activates the sensor, and Waze’s voice will ask how it can help. Loudly say, “report red light camera” or “report traffic” — Waze likes to get information on these occurrences, plus police presences, accidents or road hazards — and the app will automatically submit your report to the community with your current location. Don’t you feel helpful? If you’re worried about privacy, I submitted my first report before I signed up for a Waze account, so it’s not required. In addition to submitting reports, you can also verbally instruct Waze to give you directions to whatever addresses are saved in your “home” and “work” fields. Neat party trick.
Like most crowd-sourced systems, Waze is still learning. Its directions aren’t the best, but they aren’t completely wrong either. And, it learns your route preferences as you drive, so taking it on a few outings even when you don’t need directions is worth the effort. Waze’s written pop-up reports are still difficult to read while driving, but the app will notify you audibly of upcoming traffic cams and the like. The turn-by-turn navigation is also relatively loud, as I could still hear it with the radio on.
Best of all? Waze is free.