According to the Internet rumor mill, the announcement earlier this week of Apple’s iOS6 for iPhones and iPads will apparently not affect the operations of Israeli start-up Waze, as some had feared. The user-generated road maps and traffic data supplied by Waze will likely be included in the road navigation app promised by Apple in its next update for its device operating system.
However, while several reports have surfaced reporting the good news for Waze, company CEO Uri Levine would not confirm or deny those reports. “We don’t respond to rumors,” he told The Times of Israel. “When the time comes for an official announcement to be made by either party, we will make it.”
Apple announced a slew of new features for iOS6 at this year’s WWDC (Worldwide Developer’s Conference), some of them incorporating features that are not provided directly in Apple’s current iOS 5.1.x system, but by third-party providers. For example, the new operating system will enable users of Apple’s newest devices to make use of its Facetime communication system using cellular network connections, instead of just Wifi, as had been the case until now.
Among those announcements was Apple’s planned introduction of a turn-by-turn navigation app — essentially a GPS system that would allow users to enter an origin and destination and get directions from the Internet. Using a device’s GPS chip, the app would determine exactly where the driver was located and compensate for turn errors, traffic, road hazards, and other factors. The main purpose of the app, industry insiders say, is Apple’s “divorcing” itself from Google Maps. Many of the geo-location apps on the iPhone currently depend on Google Maps, supplying a company that Apple increasingly sees as an arch-rival with more users, and hence more profits, said experts. By removing support for Google Maps from iOS, Apple hopes to wean developers away from Google, and to its newly announced map service.
In addition to directions and traffic, the new Apple app will include information about local business, using Yelp, which lists locations and reviews of businesses. Thus, when you are driving, the app will be able to list and recommend gas stations, restaurants, and other services near where your vehicle is located. According to insider reports, Apple has been beefing up its database of Yelp listings, apparently in preparation for use with the navigation app.
Most users would great the announcement of a service like that — essentially duplicating apps from companies like Garmin and Tomtom that cost around $50 in the App Store — with cheers. Not necessarily in Israel, though. It’s likely that the app will be rolled out, at least initially, for US users — just like Siri, the voice information app that was introduced last year. Siri is supposed to provide information about local businesses and services in a user’s area, but currently does not work in Israel (and in many other countries, as well). Yelp, which is believed to supply Siri with much of its information on local businesses, is not widely used in Israel, either.
As a result, Israelis have come to depend on Waze, which supplies crowdsourced traffic information, and has its own advertising system showing local businesses based on location. Besides traffic tieups, Waze warns drivers of accidents on the road, where police are staking out roads, and when they can expect to get to where they’re going, given current traffic. It also has the ability to suggest alternate routes in transit, saving drivers precious minutes.
Waze looks at the location of users and determines their location by GPS, updating it every few seconds. The data is uploaded and analyzed, with the app checking the distance your vehicle has moved between updates. If it’s less than the speed limit, you’re in a traffic jam, and the information is uploaded to all users for their benefit. Users can also manually report traffic jams, as well as accidents, road hazards, or police presence. Many drivers, Levine said, have written to express their appreciation of the app, and Waze has won numerous awards, in categories like Most Useful App. “If I had to choose one app for my iPhone, it would be Waze,” one driver who commutes to Jerusalem every day said. “This app has saved me countless hours on the road, not to mention frustration and anger by enabling me to avoid traffic jams.”
But what about US users? The Apple navigation app is expected to have many of the same features as Waze. With Apple including the navigation app in the iPhone’s gallery of basic apps, will drivers still be motivated to download and turn on Waze? Absolutely, said Levine. “The features Waze already provides, such as outsmarting traffic and the community of drivers who help each other out,” will remain the same, and get even better in subsequent versions. “Drivers aren’t going to give that up,” Levine believes.
Incorporating Waze maps and data would give Apple access to the app’s mapping technology, which Levine said in a previous interview “provides the most accurate maps possible, since they are updated in real time.” For example, when a road is closed for construction, for example, Waze gets that information from drivers, and the Waze maps are updated within hours to reflect the closure. So, say experts, it makes sense for Apple to include Waze in its new maps agenda, which, as mentioned, appears to be aimed at driving iPhone and iPad users away from Google.
Regardless of Apple’s intentions, Waze isn’t going anywhere. “We have a lot of advantages that make Waze unique,” said Levine. “We will not have a problem in the future.”