With 85 million monthly users, Waze has become one of the more popular apps among drivers seeking navigation that incorporates information on traffic conditions, road hazards, and speed traps. But using it has an obvious shortcoming: glancing at and manipulating a smartphone while driving can be distracting and dangerous. For some drivers, there’s now a better option.
Waze is now available for use in cars with infotainment systems that use Android Auto, meaning motorists who have Android mobile devices can now use the app on their car’s built-in dashboard screens. The app maintains almost all the same capabilities as before but tailored for use on the system.
Availability has been a long time coming. Google, which owns both Waze and Android Auto, has been working to integrate the two for more than a year. The company announced the pending arrival at its 2016 Google IO conference, and it has been eagerly awaited by Waze enthusiasts. Jens Baron, the in-car product lead for the app, said it was the single most requested feature from Android Auto users.
“It took a bit longer than we expected,” he acknowledged. “We were afraid we’d lose a little bit of the Waziness at first, but in the end, what you have on Android Auto is still Waze. It still has the character of Waze, and this is something we really wanted to keep.”
“It still has the character of Waze, and this is something
we really wanted to keep.”
– Jens Baron, Waze
In practice, that means crisp-looking maps and intuitive touchscreen functions melded with the ability to operate it using voice commands. Drivers will find all the usual crowdsourced information they’re accustomed to on Waze, including routing to minimize traffic delays and alerts about police activity.
We tested the beta version in a 2017 Chevrolet Cruze diesel and found it was easier to contribute information about stalled cars and construction zones on the dashboard touchscreen than it was in previous efforts to use it on a smartphone. Speed-limit indicators were the only element we noticed missing on the Android Auto version, and Baron said he hopes they will be added to future updates.
No more than six icons appear on the screen at a given time, and savvy motorists will notice they’re arranged in the same configuration as those interstate road signs that inform travelers of their food, gas, and lodging options as their vehicles approach highway exits. That’s because both are based on federal standards designed to minimize distractions for drivers.
Google is hoping that the availability of Waze will buoy the popularity of Android Auto, which currently has an estimated five million users, and, by extension, boost sales of phones using the Android operating system. But in the end, it may be a bigger boon for carmakers.
“This will be a very important benefit that we have that
will drive a lot of people to our brand.”
– Vijay Iyer, Chevrolet
While only the most ardent Waze enthusiasts might be swayed to purchase an Android device over an Apple product based solely on the app’s availability in a car, cars equipped with Android Auto could entice tech-minded shoppers who view the vehicle itself as an indistinguishable appliance.
“From our end, it’s obviously a great tool, specifically having Waze in a number of different markets,” says Vijay Iyer, a spokesperson for Chevrolet, which was among the first brands to offer Android Auto when it launched in 2015. “From that perspective, it’s a chance to broaden choices for customers. This will be a very important benefit that will drive a lot of people to our brand.”
Chevrolet offers Android Auto; its chief competitor, Apple CarPlay; and its own in-house infotainment system as options for customers.
For Waze users who prefer an in-car experience, Android Auto remains the only choice for the foreseeable future. Baron says Waze is working on an integration for the SmartDeviceLink (SDL) consortium, which is led by a group of automakers working on an open-source operating system that connects app makers to vehicle head units.
What about the legions of Waze users who’d like to see a similar integration with Apple CarPlay? “You’d have to check with Apple,” Baron said.