Waze rolls out crowdsourced traffic data app

After being available only for Android and iPhone, the application will now be available on every major platform except BlackBerry. It will also offer voice prompts for directions.

Using smart phones as navigation tools is all the rage these days, what with a slew of applications available for the iPhone and Android platforms that utilize those devices' built-in GPS systems in determining users' real-time location.

One such service is from Waze, which in August released its iPhone app after being available on Android for several months. Waze's service is meant to help drivers figure out where they are and how best to get where they're going, all with the help of a large community of other motorists.

Waze gives users many different views of the road, including this one, in which users' avatars turn into a Pac-Man-type creature when going down previously undiscovered roads. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Among the information that Waze provides are traffic flow, road reports, and warnings about where drivers might run into speed traps.

At DemoFall 09 in San Diego on Tuesday, Waze plans to unveil its latest steps forward, which include rolling out its service on every major smart phone platform (except BlackBerry) and offering, for the first time, voice prompts for directions.

That could be good news for users of, say, Symbian-based smart phones, in cities where AT&T service is spotty. And that's important because even in a city like San Francisco, using Waze on an iPhone--with AT&T as the only service provider--meant being subject to areas where there was a significant delay in information showing up on the screen.

Further, because the service will now be available on other platforms, it means that the overall amount of data available to drivers--via the crowdsourced nature of the system--will be broader. And, because users until now have had to occasionally look at their small screens to see where they need to go, the voice prompts may well mean an easier--and safer--way to get to a destination.

Waze's application begins as a standard turn-by-turn directions tool and also offers a slew of other features, many of which give drivers something fun to look out for as they make their way to wherever they're going.

"At the end of the day," said Di-Ann Eisnor, Waze's community geographer, Waze is "about a community of drivers helping to build this map."

The company is counting on one part being fun for drivers: seeing where anyone else who's using the system is.

That may be fun for a while, but the application is really about making for a better driving experience, and that will rely on a critical mass of users. Rolling out on Android and iPhone first was a good way to ensure a significant number of drivers, especially tech-savvy ones, had access to it right from the get-go. But only time will tell if the new platforms the service will be on will make a difference in producing that critical mass.

For CNET News' latest coverage from DemoFall 09, click here.

 

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