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Waze’s new ‘order ahead’ feature would be perfect for self-driving cars

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Starting with Dunkin’ Donuts

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Google is adding an “order ahead” feature to the Waze app, and the first announced partner is Dunkin’ Donuts. Launching today, members of the Dunkin’ Donuts rewards program will be able to program their favorite items in the Dunkin’ app, and then any time they head out onto the road, they can place an order with one tap in Waze.

Requiring two apps for this integration feels a bit excessive, especially as smartphone storage can still be a struggle to manage. Waze also plans to add “more brand advertisers” to the order-ahead feature “in the near future,” according to a company statement. Hopefully it figures out a way to incorporate the feature natively in one app rather than requiring accompanying apps for every new brand partner.

Still, the whole concept is not a terribly surprising move — order-ahead apps have become standard option for pedestrian customers, with companies like Taco Bell and Starbucks leading the trend, and even McDonald’s recently getting on board.

An order-ahead feature makes just as much sense in a car, where time is typically more of a premium. And when you consider that Google, which bought Waze in 2013, is one of the companies leading the charge into self-driving cars, it starts to make even more sense.

Imagine this: you wake up in a fog, hurry to get ready, and stumble to your semi-autonomous car to go to work. You didn’t have time to make breakfast, but you absolutely need a coffee and something to munch. So as you pull away from your house, you tap the order-ahead button, and your car makes a pit stop at Dunkin’ Donuts.

Perhaps for safety reasons, Waze frames today’s Dunkin’ Donuts integration announcement as something you’ll have to do before you leave your driveway or parking spot. But an order-ahead functionality that can be safely used during a semi-autonomous drive opens Waze up to becoming a more important part of a person’s trip.

In fact, if you look at the other features Google has added to Waze — Spotify controls, a carpooling service, parking spot data — it looks an awful lot like the command center of a semi or fully autonomous car. Google already has a robust and widely used maps app, and Android Auto is a pretty decent infotainment system. Because of that, Google appears to be taking Waze in a different direction: the in-car OS of our autonomous future.