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How should you get to work today? Let us count the ways -- via the Waze app for iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile, and (now in beta) Blackberry.
Waze is one in an increasingly crowded field of traffic applications for mobile devices. The service gives drivers advice on which routes are congested, which are clear, which are completely blocked off, and so on -- meaning that on the surface, Waze appears very similar to apps like Aha Radio and INRIX, not to mention satnav services like those from TomTom and Garmin. But dig a little deeper, and you'll see that there are some key differences:
1. Waze is crowdsourced, and we haven't seen much of that in navigational apps yet. True, we've seen notes and ratings from users pop up in Google Maps, but at the moment, those notes haven't been integrated into Google's navigational services, and they're certainly not integral to moving you around town. Other apps like Trapster depend heavily on user input, but Trapster serves a more narrow purpose (i.e. spotting speed traps) than just getting you from Point A to Point B.
2. Waze is passive. It uses the GPS functionality built into mobile phones to track users as they travel, then updates the Waze database automatically. If users are moving too slowly, Waze puts a red line on those areas of the map, indicating that congestion's afoot. There's no direct user-input required, which makes it far smarter and safer than some apps we could mention. In fact, Waze disables interactivity when your car is in motion. When you pull over, though, you're free to upload additional info to the Waze database, including updates to maps and even photos of road obstructions.
3. Waze has a scoring system. Like Foursquare and other geolocational apps, Waze assigns points to users: more driving equals a higher score. Drive down a road that no one else has traveled, and you'll earn special bonuses. Rack up enough points, and you can even unlock special prizes. To those with an aversion to geolocational gaming, this part of the app may seem silly, but it'll probably encourage more widespread use, which is exactly what a crowdsourced service needs.
We should also point out that Waze has a great website, for those who prefer planning their commute before they leave the house (or for those without a smartphone). And you have to admit, the service's interface is gosh-darned cute. That's gotta count for something, right?
If you'd like an overview, or simply a Friday lunchtime distraction, here's a clip that'll give you plenty of info. We should warn you, though: it, too, is awfully cute.