Google Maps vs Waze: The ultimate showdown

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Getting around town in your car used to depend on old-fashioned technologies such as “your brain” and “having a memory”, fortunately now things have progressed and you don’t need someone sitting in the seat next to you with a map book to tell you how to get where you are going.

Since GPS has moved to the world of apps instead of separate devices two names have repeatedly sprung up, “Google Maps” and “Waze” with different people choosing to champion each of the two navigation apps.

With this in mind, we decided to put them through a series of simple tests to determine just which app delivers on its promises the best, and comes out as the one you must own.

 Appearance

Waze on the left appears simpler, and cleaner than Google Maps on the right for the same part of town.

When placed side by side there isn’t much to recommend that wildly differentiates either app on their mapping page. Google Maps is busier, while Waze tends to go with a simpler design. It’s only when navigating that things get a lot more clear.

Waze has opted for a 3D design that clearly shows the roads and makes it extremely difficult to miss a turn. Google, however, tends to be top-down, which makes following directions a little like reading a map book.

The reason for this is that Waze focuses exclusively on the driver’s experience, while Google is offering a more complete mapping facility for cyclists, walkers and public transport users.

Both Google Maps and Waze have clear directions at the top of the maps, which do make the roads easier to traverse, but these feel just that little bit more necessary when using the more cluttered Google app.

WINNER: WAZE

Data

By now we all know that South Africa’s telecommunications companies fleece us like sheep with two bodies when it comes to our data prices, so this is actually an aspect that matters here more than in most places.

Perhaps the critical difference between the two apps in this area is how they work. Waze uses mobile data to constantly update its information from various other road users and as such needs you to be constantly connected. Meanwhile, Google Maps is fully capable of downloading a route on wi-fi then operating efficiently as you drive with mobile data switched off. Sure you won’t get the latest traffic updates if you do this, but it’s a lot better than being left in the dark and is particularly useful if you are in another country where you have no mobile coverage.

The amounts of data being used are however very small for both apps. Reports differ, but if used with mobile data switched on, and no map calculations offline with Wi-Fi numerous unconfirmed reports indicate Waze uses about 75% of the data that Google Maps does – roughly 0.6MB an hour for Google and about 0.45MB for Waze. This alters significantly in Google’s favour if you use its offline functionality, however.

WINNER: Google Maps

Functionality

Waze on the left and Google Maps on the right.

As previously mentioned, while on the surface these two apps appear similar there are some significant differences in terms of which app is better for which use. As an app designed exclusively for drivers Waze is streets ahead – we regret this pun already – of Google Maps when it comes to helping car owners to find their destinations.

Waze relies on data from other users and as such can deliver on a number of things drivers need that Google maps can’t. Drivers using Waze are alerted to traffic, hazards in the road and even the locations of speeding traps or roadblocks. Google Maps, however, relies on information gleaned passively from its users and can therefore only give some general indication of traffic.

Ironically this passive system of data collection actually seems to benefit Google in some instances. With vastly more data and more accurate maps, Google is much less likely to take you to an intersection where you may need to turn right, onto a busy street with no robot and a lot of traffic from the left than Waze does. Waze does have the functionality to fix these errors, as it allows trusted contributors to improve maps by editing things like turn permissions, house numbers and more, which in time, and with enough contributors, will bring it up to Google’s standards and potentially even beyond them.

The passive data system also works better in terms of judging average traffic patterns, so Google is far better equipped to tell you what time of day you should book a plane ticket if you want to get out to the airport with minimal traffic.

Google Maps is also infinitely better if you are a commuter, walking, or on a bicycle. It can incorporate things like bus routes, train time-tables and footpaths, which makes commuting that much easier.

In the end, this category has to go to whichever app you feel fits your life and modes of transport best.

WINNER: Drawn

Anything else?

There is one final niggling point – adverts. Waze has them, and Google Maps doesn’t. While both apps are free, Waze uses adverts in the system to rake in some extra cash and this can become fairly annoying.

Not only are there paid for pins advertising car dealerships and restaurants, but other ads can appear any time your car is stopped. Dismiss the first ad too quickly and another may even appear before you get a chance to drive off. This can cause quite a bit of frustration, especially in start/stop traffic, and may even be downright dangerous if it obscures important directional info.

WINNER: Google Maps

Conclusion

In the end, deciding which app is best for you is probably the smart choice, though at present in SA, with fewer people out there helping to edit maps, and provide up to the minute updates Waze’s functionality is not at 100%. Combine this with those stress-inducing adverts and Google Maps is going to run out as our winner in this country.