Is Waze in trouble at Google? The Wall Street Journal broke the news last night that Google is merging the 500-person Waze team into Google's "Geo" division, aka Google Maps. Waze's current CEO, Neha Parikh—who has only been at the helm since 2021 after the long-term CEO, Noam Bardin, quit Google—will step down after a transition period. Under Maps, Waze won't have a CEO.
The Waze merger comes as part of Google CEO Sundar Pichai's cost-cutting mission over the last few months, which has so far killed Google Stadia, Project Loon, half of Area 120, and the Pixel laptop division and might even be coming for the (poorly monetized) Google Assistant. The report says that "Google expects the restructuring to reduce overlapping mapmaking work across the Waze and Maps products."Waze is a mapping application that has miles of overlap with Google Maps. You can view a world map, navigate places, look up points of interest, and see traffic data. Waze's defining feature is crowdsourced reporting of road hazards—things like traffic, speed traps, construction—that will instantly show up for other Waze users. Google bought Waze in 2013, and while it quickly moved to integrate traffic reports, it doesn't show all the Waze reports and doesn't push users to report road hazards the way Waze does.
Google PR gave The Wall Street Journal an "everything is fine" statement, saying, "Google remains deeply committed to Waze’s unique brand, its beloved app and its thriving community of volunteers and users." The report also says that "Google said it planned to maintain Waze as a stand-alone service." It's hard to take that too seriously given that Google said Stadia "is not shutting down" two months before announcing Stadia would be shut down.
Under the axiom of "actions speak louder than words," it's hard to see this as a good move for Waze. This is a major reorganization, and it comes on the heels of Waze's 12-year CEO, Bardin, quitting Google last year. The report says Google wants to cut down on duplicate work, so why would you stop just at the mapping data? With that line of logic, why does a separate Waze app exist at all? Google is not publicly asking that question yet, but it's hard to think it won't in the future.Waze's trajectory at Google sounds a lot like Nest. Google bought Nest, and after a few years of independent operation inside Google, the long-term, pre-acquisition CEO, Tony Fadell, left the company. With the company's internal protector gone, two years later, Nest lost its independence and merged with Google Hardware. Once you're part of Google, all of the "why is this different?" questions start to arise, and the company is slowly whittled down.
From a product standpoint, it has never really been clear why Waze and Google Maps have been separate for so long. It seems like you could easily integrate the missing report functionality and shut down Waze without missing too much. When Bardin quit Google, he wrote a scathing exit post about life at the corporate juggernaut, and one of the many juicy tidbits revealed is that the separation of Waze and Maps stems from a "promise" between Bardin and the previous Google CEO, Larry Page. Neither Bardin nor Page is at Google anymore, and now neither is Waze's autonomy.