INRIX gets Traffic Right

INRIX put out a new iPhone app for traffic a few weeks ago.  I promptly downloaded it and then forgot to use it. Just got around to it yesterday.

I think someone finally got a traffic app right.

Traffic apps (or radio reports, for that matter) have always been about telling you something about the traffic, but never about what you really want to know.  They tell you:

  • There’s a sofa in Lane 2, or
  • It’s “Slow-and-Go” from the 280 Merge, or
  • Things are ugly out there!

All stuff that they can know, but not really much that’s useful in itself. I still have to make some kind of mental calculation on what that means to me. The color coded bars are more useful.  They tell you what to expect and how far the traffic extends.  But no one has done a really good job of telling me what I really want to know, namely: If I leave at time X, what is traffic going to look like all along the route? Which way should I go?  When will I arrive?

That’s exactly what the INRIX Traffic app does. You pick an origin and a destination, you specify a time you’ll leave and it gives you a few options, shows what traffic will look like along the route and estimates the time of arrival. I assume it is based on some fusion of INRIX’s real-time, historical and predictive traffic info so it is smart enough to know that rush hour is differnet from noontime and Fridays are differnet from Tuesdays.  And the routing algorithms that make that possible are pretty complex as well. So it’s not easy to do…but it is exactly what drivers need. Nice job, guys.

I wish more location apps were like that.  Too often they show me something that they can show me because they have the data.  But it’s not something I really want to know.  In the fast growing “Ambient Social Location” space, I get apps that tell me that someone is near me and I should be interested because we both Like the Wall Street Journal or know Tim Chang or ride bikes…none of which give me a compelling reason to want to engage with that person.  They CAN do it because all that data is captured in my various social networks, but I don’t care. So they aren’t compelling. Like Traffic, I like the concept, but until these apps do the hard work to give me information I want and can really use, I suspect they’ll remain toys for the technical chattering classes.