06/20/2012 06:14 pm ET Updated Aug 20, 2012

New Waze Update Lets Members Find and Share Cheap Gas Prices

While it is unclear to what degree Waze's turn-by-turn navigation technology will be incorporated into the iOS 6 Maps app, the company today debuts a new feature that should appeal to many of us this summer -- a cheap gas locator.

As part of today's 3.2 update, which hits iOS and Android devices, the free Waze app will include a homescreen "Gas" icon. From there, users were have the option of searching for gas stations by price or proximity. Gas prices are reported by Waze's 17 million members who currently share information about accidents and traffic jams with drivers near them.

If Waze's new gas locator tool appears similar to GasBuddy (also available on iOS and Android devices), that's because it is. GasBuddy, with at least 15 million members reporting real-time gas price information, is the unleaded and undisputed leader in this space so far.

For a peak as to how Waze is handling this, check out their promotional video.

Going up against an established leader

The most critical component of any cheap gas locator (really any service that purports to showcase the lowest price of any unit in a given category) is the reliability of information. It will take some time for Waze 3.2 to be out in the wild for users to have a clear idea of how accurate and up-to-date the price-reporting service will be.

What we can look at, however, is how users respond to Waze's real-time traffic reporting technology (and to a lesser degree the company's turn-by-turn navigation technology). Here, Waze gets mostly high marks. From my own personal and positive experience using Waze on an occasional commute, to Appolicious Advisor Kathryn Swartz's appreciation of the hands-free, voice-activated command feature, to the thousands of mostly supportive third-party reviews, it is clear that Waze, its community, and its technology passes the initial sniff test.

While Waze's reliability is far from perfect, Apple would not be in business with the company if it were hawking lemons. As to whether Waze will serve as a real alternative to GasBuddy for me and others, well, the jury is still out.

As somebody who reviews a lot of apps that simply don't perform what they are advertised to do, I have deep respect for services that promise to do one thing very well and then execute on that beautifully. This is my experience with GasBuddy, which I have used regularly for well over a year.

Of course, as I use Waze regularly for its existing services, it will be easy and logical for me to give its cheap gas locator a test drive in the near-term. Once iOS 6 is in the wild, however, I and many others may just naturally migrate to the new Maps app. In the months in between, I'll be comparing the services as well as the viability of other benefits they provide.

Different incentive models

One thing that appeals to me about the Waze app that is not currently found in GasBuddy is how members are incentivized the use the service. With GasBuddy, I need to report six or seven gas prices to be eligible to participate in a weekly contest where $250 off gas is the grand prize.

Waze, however, promises to offer "Waze-only" deals at participating stations. If the price-savings are significant and there is a participating station on my normal route, that could cause me to jump ship and use Waze for everything. At the onset, there will be partnerships with Kum & Go, Mid-Atlantic Convenience Stores (Exxon and BP stations) and Vintners Distributors (Shell) locations, according to a Waze press release.

Additional new features in Waze 3.2 will also be helpful, at least from a navigation perspective. The "Add a Stop" feature allows you to modify your travel itinerary to pick someone up along the way. Pretty cool for car poolers. The "Search by Category" feature uses technology similar to what is found in apps like WHERE, now part of eBay and available on iOS and Android devices) and AroundMe (also on iOS and Android). These companies direct users to things like restaurants, ATM machines and, yes, gas stations in their area.

Those apps also include gas price information and station locators as part of their offerings. Neither, however, will tell you about potential traffic jams while en route to fill up the tank.