How Waze and Google Maps Work on Your Phone

August 31, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

It was May 2016, and I was on my way to Indianapolis, driving from Orlando. As I was nearing Atlanta, my phone beeped frantically. It was my GPS app, Waze, telling me to exit in a half mile.

I had learned from experience to always follow Waze, so I got over and exited onto some county highway just in time. As I exited, I saw cars stopping on the highway, backing up almost to the exit, the line stretching up as far as I could see

I followed the new directions, driving along county roads east of Atlanta. It took 30 minutes, and Waze finally deposited me back onto the highway, 10 miles north of where I had exited, back into the traffic jam I had left. I was back in the same line of traffic, but only for one mile, and I was only stuck in it for 20 minutes.

Waze location services screen on an iPhoneIt happened less than 30 seconds before I had to exit, but something alerted Waze and got me to change course.

How did Waze know to tell me when to exit?

Have you ever wondered how the traffic function on Google Maps or Waze works? We no longer have the eye-in-the-sky news helicopters flying around town, alerting us to traffic jams., but the GPS systems are gathering traffic data from somewhere.

It’s our phones.

Well, not our phones, per se, but our anonymous aggregated data.

Google Maps gathers its data — our location, direction, and traveling speed — from all Android and iPhone users who have Google Maps and Waze open while they’re driving. It already has all the maps of the U.S. and a lot of the rest of the world (thank you, Google Maps!), and it has kept track of previous travel data, so it can predict future traffic patterns based on past traffic.

And since Google owns Waze, the two share the same data so you can use one or the other and be sure they’re both accurate with real-time information, not something that’s 15 or even 60 minutes old. I never had this experience with a Garmin GPS. We bought one a few years ago, and I stopped using it two weeks later because I downloaded Waze. (My wife was not happy about that.)

Google Maps also knows the speed limits on all the roads and compares that to the current speed of all the cars — well, phones — traveling on that road. If it’s slower than the posted speed limit, or if the cars have all stopped, it updates the traffic conditions and gives it a traffic rating, all according to the speeds that are being shown.

Now, they don’t transmit all your personal information, like “Erik Deckers is heading home to [address] in his Ferrari Testarossa and will arrive at [time].” But it does track “there’s a user traveling on I-4 at 30 miles per hour, but it’s normally a 55 mph zone. In fact, there are a couple hundred phones all traveling at that speed in a 55 mph zone. That’s a traffic jam!”

Google can also predict traffic patterns by analyzing tens of thousands of users who have driven on highways at the same time every day. They know that every day between 4:00 and 6:00 pm that northbound I-69 in Indianapolis is clogged up, or that I-80 through Des Moines is jammed up between 4 and 6 CDT. And that no one has moved on I-405 around Los Angeles since 2008.

That means they can also predict when traffic will be at its heaviest. This way, if you ever use the “Go Later” function on Waze, it will look at the historic traffic patterns, and tell you what time you have to leave in order to arrive at your desired time.

(I always leave 15 minutes before that, if I can help it because you never know when there’s going to be a crash that makes everything worse.)

Waze and Google Maps are also up to date on the latest construction traffic patterns. There’s a lot of construction around Disney World right now, and the two have always been up to date with the latest changes. That’s because they’re also using our traffic data to improve their maps by seeing where people might deviate or take new routes, especially when the current maps are showing something else.

My Atlanta story happened again recently when I was returning to Orlando from a weekend in Atlanta. I knew where I needed to exit off I-75 to get home, but all my routes told me to exit around Gainesville, and I couldn’t figure out why. I had thought about ignoring it, but remembered my promise to myself: Always follow Waze.

I exited where I was told and saw that the traffic, just like last year, was backed nearly up to the exit. I realized traffic was backed up for about 5 miles and 30 minutes. My detour took less than 10 minutes, and I missed the entire traffic jam. Once again, Waze to the rescue!

In the end, a GPS system like Google Maps/Waze is only as good as the data it’s getting. So you can help your fellow commuters or vacationers by keeping one or the other open while you drive. But if you’re worried about privacy — remember, they’re not gathering personal data, just anonymous aggregated data — you can turn off your location services on your phone. (Which will also mean Waze won’t be able to guide you accurately.)

Do you use a GPS to get around town or only on vacation? Do you have a favorite program or method to find your way around a new city? Share them in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Erik Deckers (Used with permission)

Five Family Travel Gadgets to Get Before Your Next Trip

May 27, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Thanks to technology, there are all new kinds of travel gadgets you can use to make your life easier on your next vacation. But this article isn’t yet another regurgitation of the same old “get a cheap tablet” advice. We all know those:

Erik Decker's EasyACC Battery Pack and iPad, one of his most important travel gadgets

My EasyACC Battery Pack and iPad. Note the awesome Tpro Bold 2 backpack in the background!

  • A cheap tablet that uses wifi only.
  • A portable DVD player for backseat video viewing.
  • Better yet, a small laptop for DVD viewing; it can double as your travel laptop at the hotel.

Those are all great gadgets, and I highly recommend them. But there are are a few gadgets that you may not have considered. At the very least, they’ll make life easier, and maybe even save you some money.
Read more

Things to Do With Kids on a Plane

May 20, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Adults are pretty easy to entertain when we fly. We can read, watch TV or movies on our iPad, or play Words With Friends with our cousin in Spokane. Most adults have it pretty easy because we’re mature, we’re patient, and we don’t rely on others to entertain us for hours.

Flying with kids is a whole different ballgame.

Flying with kids is a whole different sport.

Kids on a planeIf you thought car travel was bad, taking kids on a plane trip can be much, much worse. That’s because the people in the car next to you don’t give you dirty looks or think you’re the Worst Humans On Earth because your child gets a little grumpy two hours into a five hour flight.

So how can you keep your kids entertained while they’re on the flight?
Read more

Eight Ways to Prolong Your Mobile Phone Battery Life

April 8, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

After last month’s news about how closing dormant apps don’t help your mobile phone battery life, that got me to thinking about how to actually extend a phone’s battery, especially during a long day out.

Atlantic Unite's USB Port to charge your mobile phone battery

Atlantic Unite2’s USB Port

Now that we live in Orlando, my family and I often spend a good 8 – 10 hours wandering around one of the theme parks, and my mobile phone battery is usually nearly dead by the end of the day. Of course, it doesn’t help that I play Ingress (an augmented reality geolocation game played on your phone), but there are some things I do to try to extend my battery life throughout the day.

1. Reboot your phone

Do this the night before, while it’s plugged in. This way, you’ve closed any memory and processing leaks that might use extra power. Don’t forget to keep your apps updated, because new versions are sometimes less of a power drain than their older predecessors.
Read more

How the Unite2 Collection Can Solve Cell Phone Battery Woes (and Other Travel Problems)

March 25, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

As someone who often travels for work, or is at least away from the office for an entire day, having a fully charged iPhone is important. Unfortunately, I don’t always manage my phone use properly, and am usually near the end of the battery life before I get back home.

Atlantic Unite2's USB Port

Atlantic Unite2’s USB Port

I read a recent article on ABC News about preserving battery life, and was surprised to learn that closing multitasking apps may actually use more battery than letting them run.

Apple says that leaving apps running doesn’t actually consume any more battery, because “Apps that are in a suspended state aren’t actively in use, open, or taking up system resources.” In other words, closing apps doesn’t help battery life.

But, Dave Burke, a vice president of engineering at Android, says that closing them may actually use more battery power. According to ABC and Burke, “closing all those apps actually activates them momentarily and may consume more battery than leaving them open in the background.”
Read more

Last updated by at .