Walc is a new app built around the concept of landmark-based directions.
Instead of telling you to walk down a street for 0.3 miles, Walc asks you, “Do you see the Mcdonald’s?” Then it tells you to walk toward it and take a right.
It’s a concept that is instantly recognisable, as it mimics the way we give directions in person. But the question is whether this age-old paradigm provides anything of actual value that Google Maps doesn’t.
In testing the app, there was one case when it consistently made my experience better: getting off the subway. Google Maps is great for when you already sort of know where you are, and which direction you are going. But when you are getting off the subway and disoriented, there’s always a good chance you start walking in the wrong direction. That little Google Maps direction arrow has been known to lie.
“If you’ve ever popped out of the subway in an unfamiliar spot, or parked your car and didn’t know which way to go from there, you probably began walking confidently — in the wrong direction,” founder Allison McGuire tells Business Insider. This is my usual experience, and Walc did make that better.
But that’s where Walc’s advantage over Google Maps seems to end. Seeing a little dot move on a map is a pretty easy way of knowing how to get places, and moving through a series of landmarks isn’t more convenient.
Where I could really see Walc’s potential advantage is in audio directions.
Turn-by-turn directions on Google Maps can be annoying because they sometimes require you to locate obscured street signs. In a situation where you can’t look at your phone constantly, hearing “Walk toward the Walgreens” might be substantially better.
Walc assures us this is coming in a future update, but right now it doesn’t have audio support — or public transportation support for that matter, or even driving support.
Walc, like its name suggests, is strictly meant to be an app for walking, which limits its usability.
In its current iteration, Walc seems more like a useful feature for Google Maps than a completely new app. In fact, Google did introduce this type of navigation in India, where roads are more inconsistently marked than in the US. And presumably Google just didn’t believe there was a big enough market for it in the US.
Walc also provides a “nearby” businesses function — think categories like coffee shops — which does work well if you want to find something quick, within a few blocks. This is where the short inconvenience of getting your bearings on Google Maps can actually make a difference.
But is it worth downloading an entire new app for?
One of Walc’s advantages might be the obvious ease with which it can integrate brand placement. You could imagine the company cutting a deal with McDonald’s that meant that any time a McDonald’s was visible, that would be what Walc would choose. While McGuire didn’t confirm this monetisation strategy, she did say Walc was already attracting major brands. This could help Walc survive even if its user base is relatively small.
McGuire herself gained some negative press last year when she cofounded SketchFactor
, an app that helped people avoid “sketchy” neighbourhoods — and was lambasted in the media for racist undertones.
You can see that Walc is motivated by some of the same underlying feelings. Navigating by landmarks helps people get oriented quickly, and not look like they are completely out of place in a neighbourhood. But in moving away from a controversial app concept, McGuire might have gone into something there just isn’t a big enough market for with alternatives like Google Maps and Apple Maps already on people’s phones.
But with the addition of audio directions and public transportation integration, Walc could be a useful tool to find your way around the big city.