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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Is Google betting $1bn that you'll use your phone while driving?

The tech world was lit up yesterday by Google's $1 billion (with a b!) purchase of an Israeli app company called Waze.

Never heard of them? I hadn't either. But what the company does is run a phone application that is supposed to save you time on your driving trips. What it does is combine GPS map information with real-time updates by users.

Think of Waze as the “wisdom of crowds” meets digital maps. “Join other drivers in your area who share real-time traffic and road info, saving everyone time and gas money on their daily commute,” Waze says on its website. The goal? “To outsmart traffic and get everyone the best route to work and back, every day.” Waze users receive mobile alerts about traffic hazards based on their location Time Magazine.


Half the work require nothing from the person running the app - it runs in the background, and logs your speed. So if you're doing 10mph on A st, but another user is doing 25mph on B street, the app decides to reroute you based on that live information. Aside from draining your battery, and providing the folks at the NSA with even more to spy on, doing so is harmless.

The problem comes with the other half. It requires the user to engage their phone to report accidents, delays, and even take pictures. Since most american car trips are done with one driver and no passengers, it stands that the app is relying on the driver taking his eyes off the road in order to feed the data pit.

 photo waze1_zps6343f98d.jpg

While that act is sure to help many others, we all know it will lead to an ironic scenario of someone crashing and causing their very own hour long delay.

Of course, once you crash, it's eve easier to report what lane you are blocking, and the pictures will be great for insurance reasons too.

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No harm if you're in slow traffic right? Not exactly. I am sure the folks at Google can justify the features by saying that no harm comes from using the app when stopped in traffic - even though under California law that's illegal and ticketable. Stop-and-move-go traffic is also ripe for accidents. I have a family member who has been rear-ended twice while stuck in LA traffic. In both cases, the person behind her probably had their eye on the phone and let their foot slip from the brake pedal, resulting in a 5mph collision (which still required a trip to the bumper-repair shop).

Of course, like most driving apps, I'm sure it will come with a nice big warning telling you to never, EVER take your eyes off the road. Right, because that will stop anyone. And while Google is pushing forward on self-driving cars, they're not quite here yet.

So in the short-term, it sure looks like Google is betting $1 billion on the fact that even while driving, people can't take their eyes off their phones.

And don't even try and report things AFTER you're done driving.

 photo waze3_zpsfb7564e4.jpg
(not my English!)

In case you were wondering about non-driving modes...no, it appears the app does nothing to help transit riders inconvenienced by a dead train or other delay. You know, the people who actually can be on their phones reporting stuff because they're not behind the wheel. 

1 comment:

  1. The transit app Moovit (incidentally, from a different Israeli company) does attempt to used crowdsourced data for transit navigation. I use it pretty much every day on the way to work...

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