Way back then, getting from one place to another place wasn’t always a breeze. Drivers would often look down at their maps or pull over to ask any local or bystander for road directions. And it would be even worse if drivers became unfortunate victims of a traffic jam that got them stuck for over 30 minutes, simply because they never saw it coming.
While these usual on-the-road issues – traffic jams, bottlenecks, accidents, ongoing constructions, and repairs, etc. – still happen today, thankfully, there’s the technology that alerts us about them beforehand so that we have the option to take alternate routes.
This very technology gave the world Waze, one of the most popular map and GPS navigation software apps in the world today. And probably, it is the most promising Israeli application since ICQ. In 2013, Google acquired Waze for over $1 billion – so, there’s a lot of serious money there. But before Google sealed the deal, other companies – from Yahoo to Facebook – showed a keen interest in acquiring Waze.
Waze can be downloaded for iOS and Android, is available in over 50 languages, and has over 140 million monthly active users worldwide. And we’re proud to say that it was invented here in Israel – a little country but a tech giant where it is home to the world’s greatest number of startup companies.
Waze began life in Tel Aviv in 2006. Programmer and software engineer Ehud Shabtai wanted to get from one place to another quickly and without asking for directions. His wife bought him a GPS device, which he used to navigate but later found many annoying flaws. While the GPS systems enabled him to get from point A to point B, they couldn’t provide accurate traffic information in real-time.
So Shabtai began mapping Israel. At first, he did it on his own. Later, he sought assistance from partners Uri Levine and Amir Shinar, plus a community of about 1,500 drivers. During the embryonic stages of the project, it was called FreeMap Israel.
Within four years, Shabtai and his colleagues had created a community-based navigation device that would provide real-time traffic updates and alerts to drivers and motorists on the go. In 2008, Shabtai and his partners decided to commercialize the project by forming it into a company, which they named Waze.
In 2010, Waze raised $25 million in the second round of funding. A year later, the company added another $30 million in financing.
By the end of 2011, Waze had grown in size. At the time, it employed 80 people, most of them coming from Ra’anana, Israel, and Palo Alto, California, USA. In 2012 Waze planned to monetize the app through location-based advertising. It also offered TV news stations a web interface to broadcast the latest traffic updates and alerts directly from the Waze app. The service has been used by 25 US television news stations since.
Takeover by Google
A number of companies, including giants like Apple, Facebook, Yahoo, and Google, showed interest in purchasing Waze. In the end, Google won in the bidding, buying Waze for $1.1 billion.
How does Waze work?
Waze differs from the conventional GPS as the former is a community-based application that gathers complementary map data and other information from its users. As a GPS-oriented mobile app, Waze learns from its users’ driving times to provide real-time traffic updates, alerts, and alternative routing.
Waze is a free app for both iOS and Android smartphones. Its users can report traffic jams, accidents, blocked roads (due to ongoing construction work or any other reason), police traps, weather conditions, and many more. Users can also work on the app’s online map editor to update addresses, house numbers, roads, landmarks, etc.
Looking for the cheapest fuel near you? Waze can help you with that by identifying and locating the most budget-friendly fuel station near you or along your route – provided that Waze has established gas prices for that country. In June 2012, Waze introduced an update providing real-time gas and fuel prices. But this feature is not available in all countries, and like other community-curated Waze inputs and updates, gas prices are submitted by users.
Waze can be used anywhere in the world, but it requires crucial mass participation from the users to make the app really viable. So far, only a handful of countries are fully mapped, including the USA, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, and of course, Israel (claimed to have the best map for the country). Waze continues with its plans to complete maps in Europe, the rest of the Americas, and elsewhere.
In addition to turn-by-turn voice navigation and real-time traffic updates and alerts, Waze simultaneously sends anonymous information (including the users’ speed and location) back to its database, improving its overall service. Waze also encourages users to report traffic or road hazards by offering points to increase the users’ status in the community.
Concerns and criticisms
Waze, however, is not without some problems and criticisms. Some road safety advocates have expressed concerns over the possibility of drivers using the app, which, they claim, can distract them with a flurry of icons and notifications that can put them at greater risk of an accident.
The app isn’t spared from the hackers, either. In March 2014, a group of students from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa successfully hacked Waze to fake a traffic jam.
In December 2014, the Los Angeles Police Department sent a letter to Google complaining about Waze’s police locator. The note said that the app could be “misused by those with criminal intent to endanger police officers and the community.”
Waze – the pride of Israel
Whether it’s reaping praises or facing challenges and criticisms, there’s no denying Waze’s continuous growth and success. It is yet another proud testimony of the brilliance and ingenuity of the Israeli innovators in the science and technology sector and other fields.
Waze has definitely come a long way from its FreeMap Israel days. At the same time, it continues to evolve by absorbing new ideas and technologies to provide an enhanced experience for its hundreds of millions of users around the world.