Why Waze is Winning

Acquired for $ 1 billion, with 50 million Android downloads — what is their secret?

Have you ever wondered what makes Waze, the popular navigation app, so good? I know I have — so I decided to do something about it. I dissected Waze to try and see what makes it so compelling. I asked myself three questions: What was my initial impression of the app? Was I able to use it to achieve my goals? Do I feel compelled to use it again? Below, I expand upon each of these questions, and describe how Waze excels in all three areas making it an enjoyable, popular and successful, product.

Whereas other apps disappoint users with design which is either too minimalist or crowded, Waze hits the perfect balance, providing a friendly aesthetic. Products with an inviting, uncrowded user interface make a good first impression. Waze stands out by displaying complicated data in a simple manner. For example, Waze displays bite size portions of a map, based on geolocation, in a comic-like fashion. The map is large and colourful showing exactly where you are, whilst highlighting the desired route. Simple graphics allow Waze the flexibility to run on a range of devices, as minimal graphical computation is required, this also prevents the Waze aesthetic from becoming obsolete with time.

Does Waze allow users to achieve their goals? It is often challenging to avoid ‘feature creep’, where too many features harm the user experience, by confusing users with too many options. Waze allows users (‘Wazers’) to choose whether they would like to use the app casually to get from point A to B, or to participate in the Waze community. Both paths are easy to follow. Waze safely allows Wazers to notify others of traffic, obstructions, police ahead, an accident, and other hazards. A brief tap on the Waze screen brings up an easily identifiable icon which users may select to describe what they have encountered.

Lastly, does Waze compel its users to return? Waze cleverly uses the concept of a community to make Wazers want to come back for more. Wazers are encouraged to return and interact with others, and are rewarded for doing so by receiving ‘points’ for their participation. Waze’s traffic algorithms rely on live reports from Wazers, allowing Wazers to be directed to a route providing the shortest possible travel time. In this way, Waze is built on a reciprocal relationship between users. Each Wazer is encouraged to update Waze about the status of their journey, which in turn, helps others benefit. For example, When you are not moving, Waze will ask whether you are in a traffic jam, and suggest you report it. The community itself even rewards people for logging a traffic report. I recently reported a traffic jam, and Waze notified me that I had been thanked 16 times. Feeling appreciated can be a powerful motivation to stay within a community.

In spite of the above, Waze has its limitations — until now Waze has not independently generated large amounts of revenue. Waze provides advertising opportunities through pop-ups which appear on screen prompting Wazers to call businesses. These ads seem more intrusive than helpful. A better way to monetize the app might be if Wazers could opt to pay for a premium version with no ads and other premium features such as drive statistics and detailed reports. An option for selecting a starting location could be useful as presently Waze assumes your point of origin is your current location. Additionally, GPS and a running screen are battery killers — a screenless mode could help when battery is low.

Ultimately, what makes Waze an inspiring product to me is how it has become an essential part of my daily routine. My daily commute is made 15–20 minutes shorter thanks to Waze; as a result, I am happy to give back to the community and report what I see. Thousands of people love Waze, and its success is tied to that of its community. The community has spoken: happy Wazers drive an outstanding product.