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waze-logoWaze is a free mobile application that takes a different approach to helping users plan their driving routes — instead of paying companies for data, Waze collects real-time information from its users. The application already has more than 150,000 users in Israel (where Waze is based) and is now being rolled out in the United States — it started on phones using Google’s Android operating system in May, and today added Apple’s iPhone.

The company says its “crowdsourced” approach to traffic data is good for users, because it provides more up-to-date information — as soon as a Waze driver hits bad traffic, their speed information is recorded and shared with everyone else, so you know to avoid that route. At the same time, it means the costs are lower for Waze. (The company’s long-term business plan involves selling user data — with personal information stripped out, of course.)

Like other crowdsourced services, Waze needs to build a critical mass of users to become useful, which is why it’s important to get it onto multiple mobile platforms, particularly the high-profile iPhone. Waze is also limiting itself to the San Francisco Bay Area for now, so that it can build up a substantial user base and a full set of maps before expanding.

waze-screenshotI haven’t had a chance to test the app yet (my commute this morning involved walking from my bedroom to the kitchen table), but when I downloaded it and entered a few test routes, its suggestions seemed reasonable, so at least I didn’t stumble into any huge gaps in its knowledge. The app did at one point warn me, “This route may not be optimal, but Waze learns quickly!”

Meanwhile, a competitor called Aha Mobile just launched an iPhone app last night. The app focuses on safety (i.e., not requiring undue attention from the driver), but its data collection is also worth mentioning — it’s a combination of paid services and data from users.

Waze raised a first funding round of undisclosed size from Blue Run Ventures, Magma Ventures, and Vertex Venture Capital.

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