How to Develop a GPS Navigation App like Waze in 2021 | Process and Tips
Use our expert tips to develop a successful GPS navigation app like Waze.
Navigation apps market
When a smartphone user needs to go somewhere, chances are high that they use a mobile app to find the best route with the fewest obstructions and lightest traffic. The rapid growth of GPS navigation and map apps shows that consumers are increasingly using smartphones while traveling or running errands.
Did you know that 77% of smartphone owners have navigation apps on their phones? This way, they avoid getting lost, get to discover new places, read reviews of restaurants and other service shops, and easily share this information with friends. A recent report on the navigation app market showed that GPS apps are going to bring $34.56 billion of revenue by 2021. A navigation app can be a very profitable business.
The two most popular apps for both iOS and Android in this segment are Google Maps and Waze. They offer lots of real-time information, turn-by-turn directions and many more features that make them so attractive. Google Maps counts a smashing 154.4 million active users every month, bringing its market share to 67%! But we decided to choose Waze as our example because of its innovative nature and rapidly growing user base.
What is Waze mobile app and why is it notable?
Google bought Waze in 2013 and then continued to develop it as a separate, community-based GPS navigation app. Waze stands out on the market thanks to its real-time and crowd-sourced social networking features. For example, drivers who use Waze can alert other users about accidents, hazards, obstacles, speed traps, police activity and other issues. Users can then change their route with the app, which also gives them an ETA based on real-time traffic conditions.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Aside from geolocation and navigation features, Waze users can listen to their favorite music from apps like Spotify, as well as podcasts, from within the app. Waze also helps to find the cheapest gas stations along the route. Drivers can use the app on your car’s display thanks to Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.
Users can also choose from a variety of app audio voices to guide you while driving or even arrange carpools where you can offer rides or find companions to carpool. Waze is free to use and even features a motorcycle mode – it has everything a user could want!
That’s all great, but how does Waze make money?
If you want to build a GPS navigation app, you’re probably wondering about the potential monetization strategies. How does Waze monetize its navigation app?
Basically, Waze makes money on location-based advertisements through the following features:
- Branded pins – these pins appear on Waze maps when the user is driving nearby. They work like a store sign, raising brand awareness and attracting on-route customers to the store.
- Zero-speed takeovers – such digital billboards appear on the device screen when the user comes to a complete stop for at least 3 seconds. It’s like a traffic stoplight.
- Promoted search advertisements – Waze also displays promoted search ads when drivers use the app’s search engine to look for shopping malls, restaurants, movie theatres and other places.
Navigation app development – 7 stages
If you’re looking to build a navigation app like Waze, you’re going to follow the standard mobile development process. Here are its main phases:
- Choosing your technology partner
You need to pick a software development company to build your app. This is the stage where you research, analyze and select a company to cooperate on your navigation app. Signing an Independent Contractor Agreement is a key part of this process. Read more about choosing a partner for your app development.
- Product Discovery
Define the app you want to build: what problem does it solve, who is your target audience and why do you want to build it? Clarify your app’s vision, define your product’s goals and determine who your end-users are. At this point, you also need to decide which features are the most crucial for creating your Minimum Viable Product (MVP), which platforms your app will work on, and what will be your monetization models. Read more about the Product Discovery phase.
- UX / UI app design
This is where you determine how your navigation app will work and look. You need to create a User Journey Map, and then use the UX insights to create clickable wireframes, visual user interfaces, and motion design (animations and screen transitions). Read more about UX/UI app design process.
- Project kick-off & setup
These are the last preparations before the development team begins to work on your app. This is where you get to meet team members, define roles in the team, agree on key rules, the next steps and tools that will be used. The idea here is to set up the project environment using best practices, ranging from project management to DevOps. This is how you make sure that the development process runs quickly and smoothly. Read more about project kick-off and setup.
- Mobile development process with Quality Assurance (QA)
This is where developers finally get to build your product, using best practices such as Continuous Integration: plan, code, build, test (and repeat). Make sure that your team involves Quality Assurance at every stage of navigation app development, using manual and automated tests. Most teams follow the Scrum framework and divide the work into short iterations followed by demos.
- Publication of the app on Google Play Store and Apple Store
Releasing an app means that you need to upload assets required by laws, create promotional materials, get some beta testing done, optimize the product page/store presence, and everything else that ensures your app approval will go as smoothly as possible. Preparing for launch is key if you want your navigation app to stand out from the crowd and succeed.
- Post-development phase – app maintenance and further development
The team keeps a close eye on your navigation app, detects any crashes, monitors the app’s statistics, and works on further development by adding new features or improving the existing ones. This way, your GPS app keeps on attracting users and responds to the changing market conditions, as well as feedback from end-users.
If you partner with a software development agency that specializes in building apps, you get access to many other helpful services. For example, at Droids On Roids we offer a Product Design Workshop, a service designed to help app owners clarify the vision for their app, prepare end-user personas, and kick-off a project successfully.
Need more insights about the development process? Read this article: Mobile App Development Process – 7 Stages of App Development
What is the best technology stack for a navigation app?
As you may guess, the answer to the question “What technology stack should I choose for my app” is always the same in IT: “It depends” 🙂
Developers will find a lot of SDKs on the market that provide turn-by-turn navigation, such as Google Directions API or Mapbox. Which one should you choose? This choice is strongly connected to the problem the app needs to solve and its additional features. The core feature of the navigation app is the map itself.
Questions that will help you to choose the optimal technology stack for your navigation app:
- Does my app have a step-by-step navigation feature within it?
If yes, Google Map SDK is not an option here. Google Maps API privacy states that you can’t use their SDK to “build a product or service with features that are substantially similar to or that re-create the features of another Google product or service.” Fortunately, we have a wide variety of navigation SDKs available on the market that do the job perfectly – for example, Mapbox or Sygic.
- Can my app be used without an internet connection?
In this case, developers need to find an SDK that supports fetching a map and saving it in a local database so that it can be used without a network connection.
- Does my app give voice instructions during navigation?
Again, not all of the available SDKs support voice instructions so it is important to choose one that has this feature if it’s part of your app vision.
- Does the SDK allow my backend to interact with it for providing the best map and navigation experience to the end-user?
Some apps require adding custom roads to the map. It’s also really important that the SDK you use in your project is flexible and allows you to modify map tiles as needed.
Answering the above questions will help you to choose the most suitable SKD. In our experience, Mapbox is one of the best APIs for developing navigation apps. It offers a great directions API, allows us to use the map without an internet connection, and provides step-by-step navigation with text and voice instructions.
To build a great navigation app, all you need is a solid SDK that delivers maps and routing options. Other functionalities and UI can be added using native code.
Future technologies for navigation app development
Many companies are now testing cutting edge technologies such as Augmented Reality in navigation apps. For example, Google Maps already offers AR-powered navigation to users in the areas that are covered by Google Street view. Google is planning to improve the app’s Visual Positioning System to make orientation more accurate.
We are also seeing other AR apps pop up on the market, such as the Japanese PinnAR, or paid AR packages in navigation apps like Sygic. Navigation app owners can take their services to the next level by implementing technologies like AR or Optical Character Recognition (OCR) which help to make the map more interactive and detailed. For example, Google Maps offers AR-based navigation when users travel the distance on foot. Other examples of apps that use Augmented Reality are Sygic, ARCity, and Yahoo Maps.
What are the key features of a navigation app like Waze?
Basic features of a navigation app:
- Authorization and user profiles
By creating personal accounts, users get a space where they can leave notes, write reviews and communicate with other drivers. This is particularly important in navigation apps like Waze, where users rely on the advice of others. It’s easier to build a sense of trust between users if they can see who shared the tips and warnings they are following.
- Geolocation and navigation
The map forms the core of a navigation app. It uses the GPS system to locate objects, determines user location and displays the route. To minimize errors, it’s a good idea to include the Cell ID functionality in your app, as it’s based on data coming from mobile operators. If your team combines GPS and Cell ID, the app’s geolocation services will be precise and accurate.
- Voice directions
Apart from geolocation services, your navigation app needs to offer users the option of voice directions for the route. For example, developers can use Google Maps Directions API, which allows users to choose any voice from the list and instantly implement it. This feature is attractive to users because drivers are used to receiving directions by voice. You can add a little twist to this and hire someone famous to be the voice of your app.
Your GPS app needs to reroute drivers quickly if they make a wrong turn or stumble upon a road accident that prevents them from following the initial directions. Drivers don’t want to wait for several minutes for your app to recalculate the route – they need accurate directions straightaway.
- Social networks integration
It’s worth integrating your app with social media networks for the purpose of authentication, as well as to provide social features. For example, Google Local and Google Contacts offer access to information about businesses located nearby, as well as where friends have checked-in. They also show drivers places of interest on the basis of their previous visits.
Integration with social networks boosts the user experience but also mitigates security risks around authentication because most potential issues and vulnerabilities are already taken care of. Moreover, you won’t be forcing users to create yet another account, but use their existing accounts for smooth login.
Advanced features of a navigation app:
- In-app messages
If you’d like to spice up your navigation app, you can think about how user messages will be displayed. Will you send them to a chat or deliver them as push notifications? It makes sense for navigation apps to do this when users enter a specific area or region.
- Payment services
Your navigation app might include in-app purchases as its monetization strategy. If your app becomes a hit among drivers and those who provide complementary services (car repairs or gas distribution), you might enter into a partnership. For example, your users could get discounts or a cashback offer if they buy something via your app. In return, you forge reliable partnerships and get an additional source of income.
The functionalities of the navigation app we described above are just a selection – in our opinion, the most important ones. You can see other examples of the Waze app features below on screenshots.
What are the most common problems with GPS navigation apps?
In the 21st century, we have much more advanced technologies than our ancestors could ever dream of. One of them is the GPS system that most of us use almost every day.
However, during navigation app development, we might face some problems here.
The most common issue is the correct user position tracking. It’s key for a navigation app to provide the most accurate user position. Which factors affect location accuracy? Here are a few examples:
- Old hardware – older devices could have problems with signal strength and struggle to receive information from cellphone towers or satellites.
- Topography – in cities with big buildings or areas with large population density, the signal can bounce from different structures and GPS receivers might become confused by the additional time that the signal took to reach them.
- Not enough satellites – to calculate the user location with the accuracy of 10 m, the device needs a signal from at least 7 satellites: the fewer satellites, the worse the location accuracy.
- GPS bouncing – the GPS signal can jump from one place to another, which can cause it to record more distance traveled than it was in reality.
- Outdated maps – this is another problem that you should take into account. The world’s infrastructure changes very quickly and it is important to have up-to-date maps to provide the best user experience.
Our recommendations for developing a successful GPS navigation app like Waze
- Start with a Product Discovery Workshop and describe the main features of your navigation app. This will help in technology stack selection and you will avoid surprises during development.
- Add handy features such as rerouting, which instantly provides an alternative route when the user makes a wrong turn or if there was some accident and a faster route is available.
- Add social integration to the app so users can share their trips and communicate with each other to inform about traffic or other situations on the road.
- Add voice directions to make navigation safer as users will not be distracted by looking at the screen.
- Make sure that the voice instructions play at the right moment. When you achieve this, the user can follow them without any distractions – for example, looking at the phone screen. The same is true for sending too many notifications during navigation – users simply shouldn’t get too many of them.
- Add gamification features to motivate users to come back to the app. An example of this feature could be a points system. Users get points for different actions in the app, like sharing road information or for kilometers driven with the app. Users can compare their points with other drivers.
- Provide a selection of the transport mode so the user can see the optimal road for the mode they chose (of course it won’t be a part of the MVP).
- Make the UX/UI design of your app as simple as possible. The app buttons should be large and visible so drivers can find and tap them without any problems. Focus on the core functionality of your app – the UI should contain only the elements required during navigation.
- Add a video while publishing the app. When uploading the application for review, it’s worth attaching a video that shows how the application works. Without this, Apple or Google might reject the application, arguing that they don’t know why the application needs to be allowed to run in the background and play audio.
Droids On Roids’ experience in the navigation app development
Libya’s lack of official addresses paralyzed the economy and stalled innovation in the country. Our client – Lamah company – addressed this problem by working with us to create Makani – a revolutionary GPS navigation app to improve the lives of millions in the country.
The Makani app moves Libyans from the use of difficult descriptive addressing to smooth digital addressing and enables the navigation of geographical locations within the country. It helps users to locate places within their region through a digital map that allocates specific postal codes to almost all locations.
The app is available for free on any iOS or Android smartphone and is positively rated by its users – in the Apple store at 4.5, and on Google at 4.2. In 3 months after launching, the map contains more than 430,000 addresses from nearly 180 cities in Libya, and we are constantly developing new features.
If you’d like to learn more about the technical and business details of the project, have a look at the Makani case study.
I really appreciate the communicative collaboration among Droids On Roids team and with us on a personal level. Astounding organizational skills and scheduling abilities and resources. Highly specialized with project management tools. They are very efficient and punctual with deadlines. Care for customers and impressive capacity of handling situations that might jeopardize their clients’ projects. The team generously provided advice, suggestions, expertise in their field of work for the benefit of our project assuring that it would not only be executed, but also further developed and improved. Our experience with Droids On Roids is outstanding, and we look forward to future collaborations.
We have realized over 130 app ideas for clients from around the world, including the US, UK, Saudi Arabia, Norway and many more countries. Get in touch with us to get help from expert teams that know how to build a navigation app like Waze successfully.