I've tried a few GPS apps on my iPhone, but I've always come away a little disappointed.  They're always a little more cumbersome to use than my dedicated Garmin GPS, slower to give me directions, and more likely to lose the GPS signal.  Furthermore, I use my iPhone to listen to podcasts and I get annoyed that the GPS app lady talks over what I'm listening to.  Furthermore, I sometimes have to switch apps to change to a new podcast, something I don't want to do when I'm driving.  Lastly, using the GPS is murder on your phone's battery.

The phone GPS apps do have a few advantages.  They're always up-to-date and  do a better job finding new restaurants, new roads, etc.  The user interface is usually better so it's easier to enter addresses or, even better, choose an address from amongst my contacts.  Also, there are ways I can send addresses from my computer to my phone so I don't even have to type anything. However, in my experience, the apps just didn't offer enough additional features to make me abandon my dedicated GPS.

However, a couple new apps have grabbed my attention.  One of them is Waze.  On the surface Waze works like most other GPS app: You search for or enter a location and it shows you a map and gives you visual and spoken directions.  What makes this app interesting s the fact that it uses data from all the other Waze users on the road.  It measures the speed of other cars on your route.  Even better, it allows users to report issues such as heavy traffic, accidents, and even police  (I think the spirit of this feature is to report police cars at accidents or pulled over vehicles but I'm sure people report speed traps too).  

I'd heard about Waze on a number of blogs and podcasts, although I was a little skeptical about how it would work for me.  After all, most the people I read and listent to are in large, tech savvy cities like San Francisco.   Was there going to be enough users in Madison WI to get the advantages of crowdsourcing?  I'm please to say that every time I fire it up it reports at least 45 people in the area using Waze.  That's proven to be very adequate: It's done a very good job of driving conditions on my commute to work.  And, when I encounter something unreported, I've made an effort to contribute to the cause and be the reporter (It's worth mentioning that Waze does a good job making this hands-free).

Here's a few screenshots.  I'd wish I'd gotten one of the alert telling me a stopped train was blocking my drive downtown...

The other app I've been liking is Twist.  It's not really a traditional GPS app.  It does give you an ETA and shows you a map of where you're going, but not in a way that's going to make you choose it over another app or a dedicated GPS.  No, the real purpose of Twist is to let other people know when you're going to arrive.  

Consider this : We take my kids to visit grandma and grandpa pretty often.  They only live 45 minutes away, so we make plans to get together on a lot of weekends.  We never set a real concrete time that we're coming over, and our time of departure is unpredictable due to the fact that two and four year olds lack punctuality.  Still, we'd like to give my parents a sense of when we'll arrive.  

That's where Twist comes in.  To "make a new Twist", you simply enter your destination (mom's house) and who you want to notify (mom).  Then, when you leave your house the GPS senses you're on the move and sends mom a text message, something like "Todd just left.  His ETA is 10:45 AM".   When you get close to your destination it sends another text message saying "Todd is about to arrive".  If you stop to get the kids some french fries en route and it takes too long another text message will be sent alerting mom of the delay.

Twist seems works best for trips that:

  1. You make on a regular basis
  2. Someone is waiting for you at your destination

I made one like the above example, and I made one for the days where my wife gets home before me..   That way, when I leave work and pick up the kids from daycare, I can let her know I'm on the way home and when I'll arrive.  That way I know I'll have a hot gourmet meal just waiting for me when I arrive [insert wife's laugh here].

AuthorTodd Zarwell