MWC [Barcelona] Waze, the fast growing urban navigation app, has revealed what life has been like after it was acquired by Google nearly two years ago.
The Israeli firm was snapped up by the Silicon Valley internet giant for a reported $1.3 billion (£850 million) in June 2013 in what was one of Google’s biggest ever acquisitions.
Following the deal, each of Waze’s 100 employees at the time received an average of $1.2 million (£780,000) but beyond that the Google acquisition hasn’t had much impact on the way Waze operates, according to Di-Ann Eisnor, head of growth at Waze.
“For our community and our employees largely nothing has changed,” she told Techworld following a presentation at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week. “It's incredible that as an autonomous unit, we’re able to focus on our product roadmap and more importantly our growth, and figure out the best way to approach that, for ourselves.”
Many tech startups fear that they will be forced to change their product strategy or way of working if they get swallowed up by larger firms.
But Waze, which beat Dropbox and Flipboard to win the best overall mobile app at MWC in 2013, has continued to work independently of Google’s teams, instead relying on its own engineers and business development staff.
Eisnor said this has allowed Waze to “preserve that critical, startup culture that put Waze on Google's radar in the first place.”
Being autonomous has pros and cons, said Eisnor, before going on to stress that it’s “mostly” positive, without elaborating on any of the negatives.
“We work fast and in our own way and we're grateful,” she said.
During her presentation, she said that Waze has continued to grow since it was acquired but she was unable to give away any of the exact numbers.
Waze to come preinstalled
The executive said she expected the company to grow further due to the fact Google is now giving handset manufacturers the option to preinstall Waze on their devices before selling them.
Waze is now part of the package that makes up Google Mobile Services, a bundle of software that handset manufacturers can preinstall on top of the core Android operating system. The vast majority of handset manufacturers choose to do this, including Samsung, HTC, Sony and LG.
“We are now officially an option on the Google GMS,” said Eisnor. “OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] can check a box and have Waze preinstall it on their devices. We think this will be a major driver.”
She added: “The preinstall news is the first time we've been formally teed up by Google for global distribution.”
Waze, available as a web and mobile app, relies on crowdsourced traffic data, which it obtains automatically when people drive around with the app open. This means that Waze collects data from its community of travellers to inform other users of the best route to take in order to get from A-to-B most efficiently.
If Waze comes preinstalled on Android devices then it’s likely that it will be seen by a larger audience and its journey planner should become even more intelligent as a result.
Google is also using Waze traffic insights in Google Maps. Indeed, shortly after the acquisition, Google integrated the apps' incident reports directly into Maps.
Waze isn't really considered to be a Google Maps competitor. Instead, it’s more of an alternative for users looking for a light, traffic-focused app that has unique route-sharing capabilities.
Android handset manufacturers can decide to only preinstall Maps if they choose, but it’s likely that some will add Waze onto their devices as well.
Google and Waze are competing with a number of fast-growing navigation apps, including Citymapper in London, which received $10 million (£6.5 million) from the investors behind Airbnb and LoveFilm last April, and Moovit, another Israeli firm that just bagged $50 million (£33 million).