Campaign season officially kicked off last night with the first GOP debate. People argue about all sorts of things, don’t they? One thing that none of the wanna-be nominees talked about was Google Maps vs Waze. I’m honestly surprised since a lot of people have such strong feelings about it. When I announced my big Waze vs Google Maps experiment a little over a week ago, my Facebook feed blew up with death threats, hostile words, and memes suggesting that I use Google Maps to drive off a cliff.

I kid, but people have really strong opinions about apps. Tribes have formed around the apps you promote and which apps you shun. It’s fascinating how rivalries like Waze vs Google Maps, WhatsApp v Slack, Gmail v Inbox v Mail, Tinder v Slingshot, Periscope v Meerkat, etc., have created allies IRL.

After a particularly frustrating trip from south Austin to downtown—it wasn’t rush hour; Austin just decided it was a good idea to take a section of I-35, normally three lanes with two entrance ramps, down to one lane, and Google Maps didn’t seem to have any idea what was happening—my friend Liz (a Wazer) convinced me to give Waze another try. I had used Waze before, years ago when it first came out and people were all excited about it. I didn’t remember exactly what I hadn’t liked about it, so I decided it was time to give it another try.

My friends responded with a mix of support and curiosity: 5 Waze fanatics (one posted her user name so we could connect (cause you can have friends on Waze)), 1 Google fanatic, and my friend Emily offered me vodka to make it through my week of testing.

What I liked:

1. You can send other Wazers your ETA! This would’ve been very helpful that night I got stuck on 35 and made my friend wait for 45 minutes.

2. You can sync your calendar events. Your plans show up right in the app along with any address that is associated with the event!

3. You can turn off toll roads completely! On Google Maps, it’s really annoying to have to turn off toll roads every time you ask for a new route.

4. Auto day/night mode. During the day, Waze uses a light-colored interface. At night, it automatically switches to a dark interface that makes it easier to concentrate on driving.

5. It’s stupidly fun. I don’t know why I got candy points sometimes, but I did. It’s pointless. You don’t actually get anything, but gamification works.

What I disliked:

1. No turn lanes. Sometimes there are two turn lanes, and sometimes it matters which turn lane you’re in. I noticed this right away because I missed a turn because I couldn’t get over in time. Google Maps tells you which lane you need to be in.

2. It’s sluggish. Waze doesn’t respond as quickly to turns as Google Maps. If you have to make fast turns, back-to-back, it takes too long for the app to catch up.

3. It doesn’t show you a zoomed out version of your route before starting. I finally found the written turn-by-turn instructions, but I’m a visual person and I want to see where it’s taking me before agreeing to it.

4. Because of #3, it ended up taking me on some strange routes. My second trip, it routed me in a huge circle around supposed traffic, but I ended up getting stuck with two left turns.

5. It’s ugly.

6. It’s not intuitive.

a. Search: When I open the app, the first thing I see is a search bar at the top.

 Waze home search bad UX/UI

When I click on it, I can either type in a place or choose it from a list of my saved places and events. If you’re asked to clarify a location, you’re taken to another list of possible addresses. Choose an address and you’re asked to Save Location. Then, instead of being navigated to the addressed you just clarified and saved, you’re taken back to the initial list! #frustrating

Waze clarify location bad UX/UI

b. Iconography Part 1: If you don’t want to type in the search bar, you’re presented with two, single-color icons at the bottom:

–the left one looks like a speech bubble with legs
–the right one looks like a location marker

What do you think does what? Would you have any idea what the speech bubble would do? I didn’t.

Waze bottom icons bad UX/UI

Tapping the two-legged speech bubble gives you–SURPRISE!–the option to Navigate, Send (your location), something called My Waze, and Inbox (because I need yet another app to send messages…this time, while I’m driving?!). Dumb.

Waze navigation bad UX/UI

So, why a two-legged speech bubble? Well, it’s the outline of the Waze logo. I guess they couldn’t think of a better icon to represent the MAIN USE of the app: NAVIGATION. I can think of a few that would’ve been better, and a quick search returned these:

map navigation icons

Of these, my favorite is the top, left icon. The bottom-left would’ve been a good option, too, but I’ll get into that below. Instead, Waze used an icon that had zero meaning (to the average user) and forced their users to waste time learning each button’s function. This contributes to a negative user experience, and it could’ve been avoided.

Lesson: use icons that have meanings.

c. Iconography Part 2: Waze definitely used an icon with a meaning for this next example of bad user experience. Looking back at their home screen icons, notice the icon on the right. It’s commonly known as the location icon or location marker. What do you think tapping a location icon would do? Adjust the map to your current location? Maybe this is how you would chose your end destination?

I thought it was how one navigated to a location (partly because I had no idea what the speech bubble did). I tapped the location icon first.

Waze bottom icons bad UX/UI

I was wrong. Tapping the location icon opens up a menu for reporting traffic jams, police, accidents, etc:

Waze reporting bad UX/UI

You shouldn’t use the location icon as a reporting icon! It’s like calling a rock a tree! Here are some options for reporting/alert icons they could’ve used:

alert iconAlert icon

Lesson: don’t repurpose a well-known icon for an entirely different meaning.

7. It’s dangerous. It promotes using your phone while driving. Yes, this is extremely helpful for reporting road hazards and closures, but it’s also really irresponsible. It’s illegal in Austin to even touch your phone while you’re in the driver’s seat in a moving vehicle (or bicycle). They have a chat function. Chat….I can chat in my map app…how is this a good idea?

8. They used the same routes. With the exception of my second trip that resulted in a circle, Waze and Google Maps gave me the same route.


Waze has built in some helpful tools like sending an ETA and reporting hazards, but overall, their user interface and user experience is confusing and not well designed. I found it put me in more dangerous situations (unprotected left turns) than Google Maps does, and it tempted me to touch my phone while driving. As a few of my friends pointed out, Google acquired Waze in 2013. Theoretically, this means there will be a Google-Waze baby that incorporates the best of both apps. Until little Woogle is born, though, I’ll stick with my trusted Google Maps.