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Waze arrives on Android Auto

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Eat your heart out, CarPlay

For some time now, you’ve been able to click the main “Maps” button on Android Auto and get a screen that lets you select an alternate navigation app. Before today, the only real option there was Google Maps. Now, Waze has launched for Android Auto, so if you prefer it to Google Maps, you can get it on your larger dashboard screen.

Waze on Android Auto is a slightly simplified subset of what you can do on the phone. Jens Baron, who does product development for the maps app, says that his company worked closely with the Android Auto UX team and went through months of “driver disruption” testing to tune the app to your car’s screen. The result is an interface that feels very much like Waze, but still feels native to Android Auto. Waze is a little cartoony and fun, but still usable.

I tried it out in a Chevy Cruze for a day or so, and found that it’s better at alerting me to traffic tie-ups and their causes than Google Maps. The backup to the toll on the Bay Bridge was worse than usual, and partway through, Waze popped up a small box that asked me to verify that there was a police cruiser up ahead. Sure enough, a few minutes later it was there, tying up traffic something fierce.

It’s also easy to report traffic conditions in Waze on Android Auto. There’s a big button on the lower right. Hit it, and then you can hit another single button to report traffic, police presence, a problem with the map, a crash, or a road hazard.

While Waze is better at the community mapping stuff, it’s not quite as powerful as Google Maps. On the beta I tried, it was a little more finicky on poor data connections, and voice commands weren’t as consistent. Baron says those issues will be resolved in time for launch.

To fully utilize Waze, you will still need to do some stuff on your phone before you plug it in to Android Auto — setting your home address and the like. There are a bunch of features that are still phone-only and should probably stay that way — like “map chat” — but Baron says that some oft-requested features like speed limit indicators will come in a future update.

Waze has no plans to bring its app to Apple CarPlay. That’s probably because Apple doesn’t seem to have any plans to allow third-party map apps to be blessed up as the default navigation applications. Android users, however, can download Waze for Android Auto right now.