The evolution of giving directions is a fascinating thing. Gone are the days when you would verbally give someone very detailed step-by-step directions, which often included something like, “At the big tree with the heart carved into it, take a left, and then we are the pink house on the right.” Now, simply give someone an address to “map” (used as a verb), or even “drop a pin” and send it via text. Paper maps and verbal directions are very much relics of the past. So how do we find our way?

It all started with MapQuest. You would enter a starting and ending address, and MapQuest would give you step-by-step directions that would need to be printed and taken with you in the car. Reading them while driving was another challenge, but in the evolution of driving directions, this was only the beginning.

Google Maps was probably the next step. Arguably better directions, and more options as to which road you would prefer to take. Still needed to print and carry the directions with you, but we had not quite reached the age of the mobile smartphone GPS.

Apple’s iPhone and the “Maps” app changed how we do directions. With this feature, we had the chance to follow the directions on our phone (no printer required). However, the first few generations of this mapping app had two major flaws: No turn-by-turn navigation technology, and a lack of a verbal command system.

Android users were the first to experience verbal turn-by-turn directions, and a map that kept up with the driver via GPS by automatically updating each turn as it was made. Apple followed shortly after with an upgraded version of Maps, still riddled with flaws—what about traffic? Automatically updated alternative routes?waze

It could be said that mobile GPS did not reach a point of almost perfection until the launch of an app called “Waze”. Waze incorporates aggregate information from all of its users in a given area to provide real-time traffic alerts for drivers using the service. Not only will Waze give you turn-by-turn directions (verbally if you choose), but the app will automatically update your directions if there is a sudden change or increase in traffic, or an accident or other incident occurs that may slow down your travel time significantly. Waze relies on self-reports from its users, who can notify others of police in the area, accidents, heavy traffic, or even debris or vehicles blocking travel lanes. Though the app itself is collecting a lot of information about your travel habits (where is it all going?), it is also using technology to provide you with routes you prefer to take by adjusting directions when you take a route regularly, and allowing you to save certain destinations that you frequent for easy look-up at a later time. You can also connect Waze to your Facebook account to share directions or destinations with friends, and arguably the best feature for the working professional is that Waze can sync up with your calendar to make driving to that next meeting as easy as opening the app and pressing on the calendar item for that day.

Mobile directions and GPS have certainly come a long way from the days of MapQuest. Judging by the history of individual navigation, it is safe to say that technology will only get better when it comes to GPS. Though it is hard to beat the specificity of information available on Waze, location accuracy is still an issue for some directional apps. For the chronically late, these types of services better provide accurate arrival times meaning less excuses for tardiness. For those of us who live in Miami, I have yet to find a setting to set my directions on “Cuban time” to adjust for any Miami-specific obstacles to my on-time arrival. Maybe in the next upgrade…

Are there other directional GPS apps out there that may rival Waze?