Waze describes itself as “the world’s fastest-growing community-based traffic and navigation app.” It has been downloaded by 49 million people.
After weeks of rumors, Google announced Tuesday that it was acquiring Waze. Industry watchers say the price topped $1 billion, but neither party would talk numbers. An Israeli business news Web site, the Marker, reported a possible hitch: European regulators may seek guarantees that user information held by Waze not be accessible to the U.S. National Security Agency.
The voice navigation system was invented by a frustrated Israeli commuter and software designer named Ehud Shabtai, who, according to the company Web site, needed help following directions. With two partners, Shabtai founded the start-up in 2008; two years later, the Waze app was widely available for download.
Unlike traditional GPS devices, Waze is driven by “crowd-sourcing,” which creates a kind of network effect. Each phone is tracked as it travels, and the information feeds into Waze servers that analyze speed, flow and routes in real time. Or as Waze puts it: “Outsmarting traffic. Together.”
Many Israeli drivers have traditionally not been too keen on the togetherness thing. But Waze may be steering them in another direction.
“One of the features is that you can see and talk to other Wazers. There is a certain camaraderie,” said Issamar Ginzberg, a business consultant and rabbi. “It’s very interactive.”
The guidance system is popular in the United States, but here in Israel, Waze has become a kind of obsession. According to a company representative, about 90 percent of all Israeli drivers have downloaded the app. More than 1.7 million Wazers were out on Israel’s roads last month. This is a country with only 2.5 million vehicles.
“You use Waze, okay? It’s free. It’s Israeli. No problem,” said Yossi Laor, who sells electronics in West Jerusalem, adding helpfully: “Everything else is garbage.”
He had fancy GPS units for sale in his shop but essentially said: Why bother?
Newcomers to Israel are advised by friends — and complete strangers — to immediately download the app. “Waze it” has replaced “Google it” as a shorthand for getting driving instructions.
“I was used to the old Israeli method of pulling over, talking to three different people and getting three different sets of directions,” said Jay Ruderman, a former Bostonian who is now a resident of the southern Israeli town of Rehovot. “I will never go back to the old method.”
The more Wazers on the road, the better and more accurate the navigation and real-time information about traffic conditions. Waze takes this information and offers alternative routes.