Noam Bardin, CEO of Waze, just took the stage here at D:Dive Into Mobile, taking part in a wide-ranging discussion hosted by Liz Gannes. Aside from dodging questions about potential acquisitions, Bardin made no bones about how he saw the future of mobile playing out. Of course, this is a man who spends essentially no time focused on the desktop web -- given that Waze is mobile only, one shouldn't be surprised. According to Bardin, "the next five years will be about fighting for time with users," and he pointed to Facebook Home as the de facto example of that.
Rather than crafting their own OS and "doing what Microsoft has done -- fighting a war that ended five years ago" -- Facebook decided to make a time play on a massive OS. From there, Bardin confessed that in major markets, he sees Waze as Google's "only real competition."
Waze CEO Noam Bardin at D:Dive Into Mobile 2013
He also made a point that we've been noticing ourselves. When riffing about the fallout from the iOS 6 Maps debacle (and the ensuing boost in users once Tim Cook name-checked Waze as a suitable alternative in his famed public apology), he stated: "Consumers now have a quality bar, and that bar is going up rapidly. Two years ago, Apple's Maps app on iOS 6 would've been a fine product."
Gannes then asked how an independent player like Waze inserts themselves into the larger scheme of things, after Bardin noted that Google has separated itself from pretty much every other corporate entity attempting to do anything with mapping.
"We struggle with this every single day -- will third-party apps have room in the future of ecosystems?," asked Bardin. "There's a bigger question of what happens with mobile in general. Overall, there isn't much difference between a high-end Android and iOS phone, despite the fact that Android is a knockoff of iOS. Samsung and Apple seem to think that they're going to provide everything. Apple believes services will drive hardware, while Google wants to own each user regardless of hardware, so you have differing philosophies. Apple really needs to learn to partner. You can see that tight integration, as Facebook and Twitter now have with iOS, makes the overall user experience better for both the partner and for Apple."
When asked specifically on the quality of Apple's mapping engine, Bardin offered: "Apple Maps are definitely getting better, but the challenge Apple has is that it's hostage to its vendors -- and those vendors are weak these days. TomTom is challenged, whereas Google has an unlimited war chest to better its apps."
In closing, Bardin replied to a question from ABC News' Joanna Stern, as she inquired on an estimated time of arrival for Waze-compatible vehicles. "Well, automakers have been working on this kind of thing for a long time. You'll probably see the first truly connected cars in 2014 -- they began construction seven years ago, and we'll get technology that's at least three years old," he said with a chuckle. "Ideally, these new apps would allow the car's sensors to be used, for a totally integrated experience. Waze-enabled cars should hit around that same time -- I'll just say that they'll launch in cars with wheels... cars that drive really well."