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Google Maps could be getting another big Waze feature — but why do both apps exist?

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(Image credit: Oliver Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

Google Maps and Waze are incredibly similar, but also significantly different — even with Google slowly stealing missing features from Waze. This time Google Maps is set to steal Waze’s toll feature, showing you exactly how much it’s going to cost you to drive on certain routes.

As simple as it seems, this is a very useful feature. But it is just another example of how disparity exists between Google Maps and Waze, when it really doesn’t need to. After all, they have been run by the same company for nearly a decade.

Google Maps has been telling people about tolls on their route for quite some time now, but the service never actually told people how much those tolls cost. That was all up to you to figure out by yourself. Waze, meanwhile, has been doing that since 2019, and meant Google’s other mapping service had a small advantage when it came to driving in certain regions.

According to Android Police this feature isn’t in the public version of Google Maps yet, and isn’t even in the preview program. Instead Google has been asking preview users how they’d like toll prices to be implemented, suggesting that it’s one of the next features coming to Google Maps. That’s going to make calculating the cost of your journeys significantly easier to work out ahead of time.

Though this feature isn’t likely to roll out to every single location at the same time. Google needs time to collect the toll data, especially in countries like the United States where toll roads are fairly common. So expect this feature to only be available in a few areas before it starts rolling out to the rest of the world.

Why does Google have Maps and Waze?

Though this prospective update obviously raises the question as to why Google operates two different mapping services at the same time. It’s not as though Google Maps gets priority leaving Waze to be neglected, since Waze does get plenty of support and updates. It’s pretty weird right?

Of course, despite being owned by the same company and having a lot of crossover, Google Maps and Waze are very different services. Google Maps is what you’d call the more ‘professional’ of the two, and is more data driven of the two services — though it also uses the location of its active users to estimate traffic and how busy certain locations are. 

Meanwhile Waze gets most of its data from crowdsourcing, relying on its users to submit information to help keep the map up to date. It doesn’t actually have any historical datasets to fall back on like Google Maps, so it’s only as good as the people using it. Waze is also able to use real-time user location data to gauge how bad traffic is, but the lack of historical context means it’s only as good as the number of active users on the road.

Google Maps is also more multi-purpose, with features that do more than just get you where you need to go. Likewise it has support for navigation without a car, offering directions for pedestrians, public transport, and cycling.

However Waze is a lot more gamified and employs a cartoonish art style. The app also has something Google Maps does not: a more aggressive way of rerouting traffic to optimize travel time. While Google Maps can and will offer to redirect drivers based on current conditions, especially on longer journeys, Waze does it automatically and without caring about how random the route might look. 

In other words, while Google Maps will look for the most direct route to your destination, Waze will send you down any number of random looking side streets to get you there as quickly as possible. Even if it only shaves a couple of minutes off your ETA. It’s the major thing Waze has that Google Maps doesn’t, and it’s part of the reason why people like using it so much.

But that doesn’t really explain why Google keeps both services operational. In fact, wouldn’t it be easier just to add a ‘Waze’ mode to Google Maps, for people who want to continue navigating with Waze’s own brand of traffic-busting navigation? It certainly feels like Waze could benefit from Google Maps’ masses of historical data, and blending the two services could be one way to make that happen.

It’s not happened yet, and it isn’t likely to happen anytime soon. But in the meantime it means that Google Maps and Waze are only going to get more similar, with features crossing over between the two. 

Tom Pritchard

Tom is the Tom's Guide's Automotive Editor, which means he can usually be found knee deep in stats the latest and best electric cars, or checking out some sort of driving gadget. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining that Ikea won’t let him buy the stuff he really needs online. 

  • Sandwich
    There's a seemingly-minor difference between the two that actually has a major effect, and makes Waze the hands-down superior app for vehicular navigation: the timing of the navigation direction call outs. Waze seems to have the timing dialed in to a perfect degree, whereas Google Maps leaves you either guessing if it meant this turn or that turn, or else unprepared to make a turn in the first place.
    Reply
  • davidc1!
    The differences between the two explain exactly why I use both...even though I don't like to.

    I live in the freeway metropolis of Southern California and drive 40,000+ miles a year, using both Waze and Google Maps every day.

    Waze is more accurate at my expected time of arrival. Maps will many times overestimate and then correct itself gradually while I'm driving. Sometimes there is a huge initial difference, as much as 20 min on a 100 min trip, even though both are using the same route. I guess this highlights the difference of using historical data more than crowdsourcing.

    Waze can usually get me there slightly quicker. Anywhere from a couple of minutes to 10 min on a 100 min trip. If you are not in a hurry, it doesn't matter.

    Maps has by far the better graphical interface. It's street names and exits are far easier to read at a glance than Waze. Maps also gives much much more information, in the form of pictographs and writing, on it's map. Maps also makes in far easier to see the "difference" between roads in the sense of where the go, and what type they are, such as freeway, highway, big or small roads.

    Maps graphical interface also makes it far easier to figure out which exit to take and how it's going to look when you get to it. This makes it far less likely you will miss your exit or take the wrong lane. This is the aspect that makes me like Maps better than Waze.

    Waze gives you fare more info about road conditions. Most of which don't matter as you are still going to take the same route anyway. You can turn all of these features on and off. It wasn't until a couple of years ago though that you couldn't turn off the feature of notifying you of a vehicle on the shoulder. This single thing made me stop using Waze in Southern California. Waze woud give "points", like it was a game, to users who reported things on the road (potholes, dead animals, pollice, vehicles on the shoulder and a host of others). But "vehicles on the shoulder" couldn't be turned off. In SoCal, there are always vehicles on the shoulder, so in a 100 min drive, I would be bothered by a pop up (that covered the map), about every 5 min. Super annoying. Now you can turn it off.

    Maps for some reason, completley ignores the existence of certain toll roads such as the whole Fastrack system in SoCal. It won't give you the option of taking them.

    Since Waze will suggest toll roads always if they are faster, which they always are, even if only by seconds, I'll initially compare the arrival time of Waze and Maps to decide it the time saved with Waze is worth the toll. Waze sort of has this feature built-in , but it's doesn't always seem to be accurate.

    Waze is far, far slower at rerouting me if I make a wrong turn. So slow in fact, that in the city, it will frequently figure out how to reroute me and show me, after I've already passed the what it's suggesting.

    So, my usual route choice is using Waze, primarily because it's slightly faster and notifies me of police on the side of the road.

    If we could combine the graphics and rerouting of Maps, with the slightly quicker routes from Waze, we'd have the perfect app.
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