Why I Use Waze Every Day to Commute, and Why I Might Use Apple Maps Someday
I use a map app on my phone every day to commute to work and home. It’s not that my home or work change locations daily or that I can’t remember how to get back and forth, but rather I like being informed of what is happening on the roads I take. It’s difficult to be informed about traffic conditions through the radio or an official highway authority because they aren’t always instant, relevant, or easy to access. But with mapping software, I can find out within minutes of heavy traffic occurring that my commute may take longer and, if possible, to consider an alternative route. That, plus community reporting features, like police sightings, hazards on the road or shoulder, or other useful information from my fellow motorists makes it a no brainer to have open. And since I’m listening to something through the phone anyway, it might as well stay on and show what I’m listening to even if the traffic conditions are nice and calm.
And that’s why I use Waze every day. The app has a lot going for it: I find that in general, it’s very fast to figure out if traffic conditions are slowing down. Plus, the community reporting is very well used and accurate, so I feel more confident driving on the roadways. And beyond using it for navigation, it’s a nice app to have open even if a destination isn’t entered. It has support for many music apps so I can see a top-down view of where I am while seeing what is playing. Plus, it’s just a fun app. Although it has been owned by Google since 2013, it has been largely kept independent, and feels like a startup app in its UI and attitude, in addition to the fun voices you can enable.
But that independence from Google may be hurting itself in other ways. The app certainly doesn’t feel as stable as Google Maps, or as robust in search features or app design. Although I prefer to use Waze, I find myself using Google Maps more often outside the driver’s seat to figure out the time and distance to get to a location. It’s far easier to set destinations from two different specified locations and is presented in a way that makes it easy to discover. I have no idea if Waze has that feature, but it’s obvious to find on Google Maps. Plus, I’ve run into so many errors trying to search for things in Waze. Usually, it happens with spotty connections, but far too often I’ll try to search for something or set a destination, and Waze will show a “something went wrong” error, and completely exit out of whatever I was doing. No option to go back and try the task again, it just sends me back to the default map screen as if I wasn’t trying to do anything. That’s obnoxious.
And it’s not as easy to find destinations on Waze. Last year I was out of state trying to figure out where the closest gas station was, and the results were a mix of sponsored locations that weren’t close at all, and others that didn’t even seem to be sorted by proximity. Google Maps was able to show a far more relevant list of locations and can even replace a standard Google search for finding places. And Google Maps just feels a lot smoother and better put together. Occasionally Waze will pop up a community alert asking me to confirm if the hazard was still there, and I’ll barely miss clicking the on-screen button and it will just disappear as if I dragged it off the screen. Just basic things that make it hard to use.
Google Maps feels nicer, but there’s a few things I don’t like. It doesn’t seem as community oriented. It offers the ability to report hazards and police sightings, but it doesn’t feel as encouraged as it does on Waze. Plus, while it is quick to figure out changing traffic conditions, I don’t think it is as quick as Waze can be. And while it does offer the ability to connect Spotify or Apple Music to control music within the app, it doesn’t offer the ability to control YouTube Music, a Google product. Huh? Waze not only supports far more services, but also YouTube Music, it’s somewhat corporate sibling. Why doesn’t Google Maps do this? As a YouTube Red subscriber since 2016 (and yes, I know it’s called Premium now), this is just a strange omission from the Google Maps app.
So, it’s a toss-up as to what you would most prefer. Waze feels nicer as an app for active navigation, and Google Maps feels nicer as a destination discovery app. But where does that leave Apple Maps? As an iPhone 12 Pro Max user, I have access to Apple’s set of apps, but I don’t always prefer them. The same went for Apple Maps. It wasn’t that Apple Maps was bad, but because they were starting from scratch, for the longest time, it was missing a lot of features Google Maps had. But that has largely changed, and there are a few positives to it. First, as an Apple Watch user, getting buzzes and notifications on my watch feels very intuitive. My phone can be in my pocket, and I can get directions easily at a glance, especially since I don’t have a car with CarPlay. Plus, it’s one of the few map apps or GPSs I’ve ever used that was hyper aware of where I am. I’ve parked at houses on corner lots where other map apps are confused as to exactly where I am and give confusing and irrelevant directions. Apple Maps was the first app that knew I was in a driveway on a side street. That level of attention to detail is very important. (Although it may just be a very Apple thing where their native app has more access to precise GPS locating than third-party apps can see. I hope that’s not the case)
But a few things hold me back. There’s still a fair number of mediocre reviews on the app from people who have issues with the app. And while Apple has added a community reporting feature, I question how many people actively use Apple Maps, let alone how many of them are reporting issues on the road. And even though every day, Apple sends me a notification when I connect to my car’s Bluetooth showing me how far I am from home, I still hesitate to open it, because as nice as Apple’s ecosystem is with its integration with the watch, and as nice as the Google Maps app is overall, I just find Waze to be better at getting places. Waze is far clearer and more accurate with traffic conditions and the community around the app is strong. While I do keep my eye on its competition, Waze will continue to be my preferred map app.