Yes, folks. Google has just bought Waze, a social mapping and navigation platform and app that could have some big implications for Android users down the road.
Waze has been a hot-ticket item that Facebook had also considered snapping up, and with good reason, too. The platform has evolved from its early days to offer robust real-time driving alerts with a social side, and its popularity has spiked.
While pieces of Waze folded into Google Maps will benefit all users across Google's sprawl of properties and products, Waze can bring a special level of utility to mobilized commuters on foot, bike, bus, or car.
In Google Maps
These changes can happen in the short space of time you check your route on the computer and climb into your car, so using it on mobile can save a lot of time, or at least let you know what you're in for.
If we were Google, we would immediately lay Waze's crowdsourced driving know-how into the back end and use it to dynamically reroute you based on real-time traffic, as accidents occur.
It would also be such a boon to see the native mapping app help commuters intelligently decide on the most efficient route. For instance, we can't tell you how many times we've exited the freeway early when traffic got backed up, not knowing if taking surface streets would actually get us home faster than waiting it out.
Google could also add some Waze elements to the traffic and gas layer, taking advantage of Waze's real-time gas price reporting as you're hunting for a top-up.
In Google Now
Waze's real-time alerts are perfectly suited to Google Now, those anticipated notification cards and drop-down menu alerts that can tell you when to leave. We'd like to see Google let you control how detailed your alerts are: do you want to know about accidents between Point A and Point B, or just when to leave and how to get there best?
In driving mode
Android's driving mode can also benefit from Waze up front. Waze works its crowdsourcing magic passively by measuring a driver's GPS and speeds and route, and actively when driver's update with road conditions.
With driving mode on, the Android maps-integrated Waze could not only surface road alerts on the map and dynamically reroute, it could also link its Google Voice Search to Waze-like features for drivers to offer announcements hands-free in driving mode.
The social element
In addition to practicality, Waze has a social element (and strangely, a gaming angle, too). Integrating Waze features with Google+ can take advantage of the way that Waze handles common destinations among friends.
It isn't hard to imagine sharing traffic updates or commute details with your specific circle of users based on common locations. Likewise, we can see benefits in using the "nearby" tab in Google+ for accident reports, speed traps, or hazards. After all, Waze already gained ground with Facebook sharing and integration with Waze's current service.
Outside the car
Google has a robust directions engine in some locations for buses, trains, and bicycles. Waze's social and real-time collection engines would dovetail nicely with Google's own in-house efforts.
Android maps versus the competition
Google already has a leg up on mobile mapping (way up) without Waze's help, but adding some of its specific, social real-time alerts can make Google Maps even more essential for millions of Android fans.
Even beyond Android use, integrating Waze can help Google maintain its lead over Apple's nascent mapping system and Microsoft's Nokia Here mapping partnership. If other mobile platforms step it up to compete, the time could be ripe for additional acquisitions of this sort; Glympse's location-sharing feature seems like the sort of low-hanging fruit that could make it next.
Realistically, we're in for a slow integration of Waze features -- into Android in particular and Google in general, but we're looking forward to the road ahead.