Uber and Waze need to start dating

uber-waze-datingEveryone knows I love Uber – better than a taxi in almost all respects, and about the same price for rides longer than 10 minutes (and often cheaper than a taxi for even longer rides). I’m equally obsessed with Waze – a crowd sourced community based GPS/traffic/navigation app that navigates you around traffic, alerts you to accidents, and ultimately gets better the more people use it.

If you are like me, you will occasionally find yourself sitting in the back of an Uber loading up Waze to see how long it will take to get to your next meeting or if you’ll catch your flight. And what you often find is that the driver, although well intentioned and very knowledgeable of the city, doesn’t have a full 360 view of ongoing traffic patters and accidents, and can’t pick the best route the way the Waze app can. A true #firstworldproblem :).

So you watch your ETA slowly get later, and you hesitate to give the driver some advise on routes without coming across as this arrogant back-seat-driver.

When I see this happen I usually ask the driver if he or she has heard of Waze — and about 5% of the time they have but they rarely have it available or installed.

So my suggestion: Uber should add a “Waze option” where it’s bundled on the iPhone of the driver, or integrated into the app itself – and give the passenger the option of having the Uber driver just follow the best route as chosen by Waze.

It’s a an easy win for both companies, and gives peace of mind to the passenger.

Dash Express – Innovative In-Car GPS

I love in-car GPS, and rely on it so much that when I recently drove in someone else’s car that didn’t have GPS I got that same strange feeling you get when you leave home without your mobile phone — oh the horror !

Back in October 2007 I wrote about what I hoped to see happening with in-car GPS and also posted my review of the Garmin Nuvi 350 and what was missing, including:

– No easy way to transfer address info from my desktop machine to the device.
– Needs to be two way. The other day I had it find the nearest gas station and it found a 7-11 store that had no gas station
– More two-way options. Would be nice to have the ability to sync all the data back to the web, so I could review past trips, and mark places of interest for future trips.
– More sharing. Would be cool to see (anonymously) what were the most effective routes to take at certain hours based on what other people did, the most scenic, the one with the least amount of traffic, etc. Lots can be done in this area.

So I’m excited to see that a majority of my wish-list items and the big traffic p2p feature are all present in the new Dash Express that Kara Swisher just reviewed:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Walt Mossberg also has an in-depth review and concludes:

Dash Express finally brings the power of the Internet, and of community information, to auto navigation. If it becomes popular, it could be a big deal.

The Dash Express traffic feature is using a wisdom of the crowd type approach:

Dash approaches traffic in an entirely different way – by collecting information from other people driving real commute routes, during real commute times. Each Dash Express anonymously and automatically sends its position and speed back to Dash’s servers. The servers then update all of the other Dash devices in the area with current road speeds, providing the most up-to-date traffic information available. The larger the Dash Network grows, the better traffic information becomes.

I think this will be a big seller and we could see lots of interesting mashups happening. Think playlists for GPS. So you could export the top rated coffee shops in SF from Yelp, and have that be a shareable list that anyone could download to their Dash. In Kara’s video above she plugs in a list that has all the hot spots from Entourage in LA — very cool.

Dash Express is being sold exclusively on Amazon for $400.

Garmin Nuvi 350 portable GPS navigator review

garmin nuvi 350

Gotta love GPS !

After using various GPS units in car rentals, and thinking about next generation p2p GPS devices like the Dash, I finally decided to go out and buy a GPS device for myself. The market for these devices is in a phase where innovation is accelerating, adoption rates are picking up pace, and expectations for the “next thing” dominates product coverage.

My research for this purchase included googling around and finding a good review of the Nuvi 350 on the Signal vs Noise blog (Dec ’05 review) . And also consulting with my buddy, and GPS expert, Wilson Rothman.

It’s been about two months since I chose the Garmin Nuvi 350 after looking at various models. Overall it’s very solid and gets the job done, and for around $350 ( bought in Aug 2007 ) it’s hard to beat.

The good:
– A crisp display that does well in all light conditions
– The maps are easy to read
– Directions are accurate 🙂
– The voice prompts are helpful and well timed
– If you miss a turn or want to hunt for an alternative route the device “recalculates” very quickly
– The price point was spot on for me

The bad:
– Bootup time could be better — takes about 10 seconds
– Locating the satelite on bootup can take 20-30 seconds – would be nice if it just remembered the last place you were at and asked if that’s where you were.
– Looking up a business name seems too slow to be useful
– In theory it’s portable enough to take on a hike or any other use outside the car. In reality the battery drains so quickly after a charge, that when I go and check the device after being in the car overnight, the battery is almost always completely empty.

The ugly :
– No complaints of anything terrible

Wish list:
– No easy way to transfer address info from my desktop machine to the device. Many times I’m on my macbook pro usually using google maps or yelp to find something, and I would love to be able to email-in or via SMS send the address to the GPS unit. Instead I email myself, and then punch it in when I get to the car
– Certain highways always get selected even though you know better roads are available. Not a big deal, but would be nice if it “learned” my preferences.
– Having to punch in the city name just seems weird. It knows what city I’m in, and should simply show the 5 nearest cities by default.
– Needs to be two way. The other day I had it find the nearest gas station and it found a 7-11 store that had no gas station ! Not a huge deal, and an easy mistake, but I should be able to flag that, and inform all other users of this mistake.
– More two-way options. Would be nice to have the ability to sync all the data back to the web, so I could review past trips, and mark places of interest for future trips.
– More sharing. Would be cool to see (anonymously) what were the most effective routes to take at certain hours based on what other people did, the most scenic, the one with the least amount of traffic, etc. Lots can be done in this area.

So overall The Nuvi 350 is a solid mid tier GPS unit, and I’m personally looking forward to the next generation GPS devices.

My AT&T Blackberry Curve 8300 Review

8300 CurveI have one of the very first Blackberry 8700C models, and I’ve been itching to upgrade for a while. At first I was convinced I’d pickup an iPhone, but managed to hold out. Next I was going to wait for a Blackberry with 3G, WiFi, GPS, and a camera. Once it became clear that this combo was still a couple of revisions away from launching, I settled in on looking for a good deal on the Curve. I called AT&T and got a really good deal, ordered it, and then saw that the new Curve was just announced in Europe with GPS 🙂

Unphased I eagerly unpacked my new phone a couple days later, and have been happily using it for the past couple of weeks. Here is my take on it, with a very strong emphasis on how it compares to the 8700.

The good:
– Form factor is much better ! The slightly smaller keyboard really makes a difference — the phone is also much slimmer and not as bulky. It actually feels like you are carrying a phone again.

– Keyboard is actually better too. The feedback/response from the keys is stronger, and within a day I was used to the somewhat more narrow, but still full QWERTY, keyboard.

– The scroll wheel replacement with the joystick is a good thing. I thought I’d miss the scroll wheel, but the way the joystick is implemented actually opens up many new uses, and makes navigating much easier.

– Having a camera again is great. I missed having a camera ever since I switched from Nokia phones to the Blackberry. The 2 megapixel camera on the Curve takes surprisingly good photos, and combine it with email->Flickr and it’s really useful.

The not so good:

– AT&T loads up the phone with all kinds of extra icons for the “ATT Mall” to shop for themes, ringtones, etc. Not a big deal to hide them, but depending on which theme you run, it can add all kinds of extra icons that simply get in the way. Not quite as bad as PC “craplets“, but for a high end phone, I would have much preferred some kind of gift certificate in the box that would let me try out some premium “shopping” items — not a bunch of icons that really shouldn’t be there.

– Battery life. Definitely not as good as the 8700. I somewhat expected it with the camera usage, and I do use lots of data applications (see “going 100% mobile” post) — but I find that by the end of the day I can be down to just 1 bar. My solution – I carry the charger with me in my bag, and charge up at various times during the day.

– OS stability. I probably had my 8700 freeze-up maybe 4 or 5 times over the course of a year with heavy usage. So far, the Curve has frozen up on me twice in 2 weeks. Both times it happened while using the camera application — so I need to see if it’s a storage issue perhaps.

– Lack of bundled apps. Would have been nice to see a solid IM app like JiveTalk bundled in. I am now running the google mobile pack — Google Maps, gmail, Google News, Google Search, and mobile gTalk. I then added in Yahoo!Go, and also an RSS reader Viigo (my Viigo review here)

The bad:

– Really nothing to complain about. I wish it was 3G, Wifi, and had GPS support 🙂 But otherwise this is a great upgrade to the 8700, and should hold me over for a few more months.

Why I love in-car GPS, and how it can be made better

GPSLast week I drove down to DC and made sure the Hertz rental car had GPS.

The drive from new york to DC is fairly straightforward, but I still don’t know my way around DC that well, and after living in new york all these years, any city that’s not setup as a grid of streets and avenues just seems extra difficult to navigate 🙂

So the GPS unit — I believe called NeverLost V3 — worked pretty well, although it got a bit confused on 95 a few times reminding me to “keep to the left FOLLOWED by a keep to the left” even though there weren’t any exits or turns to take.

But I really do love GPS navigation. Not having to be on the lookout for exits that have a starbucks ( it’s all displayed in the GPS dashboard ) is huge, and also not needing anyone else in the car to help navigate is a big win.

But the big missing feature is traffic info. Selecting “shortest time” really is just a guess. Google Maps on my blackberry includes some traffic info, but not enough to help me avoid delays. A few companies like Dash have introduced traffic info in their GPS devices by using historical traffic information, and adding a novel approach of getting traffic info from other cars on the highway that use the Dash system — very cool. ( update: Dash is looking for beta testers )

The flaw with this system is that you need everyone using the same manufacturers GPS system, and that’s just not going to be a reality anytime soon given all the various companies that are putting out GPS devices.

What we need, in my opinion, is an opt-in, open standard for sharing in-car/traffic information that any device and any opted-in person can tap into, plus a commercial consortium or W3C style governing body to maintain and evolve a standard. This data would then be stored centrally or perhaps in a non-central torrent style cloud of people within a 50 miles radius ( this needs more thinking and flushing out 🙂 ).

And as GPS is incorporated more and more into our mobile phone devices, that should give us a huge installed user base of in-car and mobile devices sharing information about traffic and other conditions. That would be infinitely better than participating in the manufacturers small group of users, and would dramatically increase the chances of having tons of good data on the highway you were looking to avoid b/c of traffic.

The manufacturers would then compete on interface design, features, UI, etc. In addition I would require people to share info from their car if they wanted to get access to the data – think bittorrent like in that you can’t get data without sharing data. That way you could opt-out and simply not get traffic info if you were worried about privacy/tracking.