Waymo robotaxi app arrives on the App Store

Hailing one of Waymo’s self-driving minivans is about to get a little easier.

One year after launching its Waymo One self-driving car service in the Phoenix area, the company is launching an app on iOS, the latest signal that the company is inching toward large-scale commercial service. Now, Phoenix residents can download the Waymo app to their iPhone and sign up to ride in one of the company’s self-driving vehicles directly from their device.

Waymo, which spun out to become a business under Alphabet, launched a limited commercial robotaxi service called Waymo One in the Phoenix area in December 2018. The Waymo One self-driving car service, and accompanying app, was only available to Phoenix residents who were part of its early rider program, which aimed to bring vetted regular folks into its self-driving minivans.

In April, the company put its app on the Google Play store. Now, one year after Waymo One launched, it has finally made its way to the App Store. The company has made improvements to the app over the past several months, including simplifying how rides are ordered to speed up the process. Users can honk the car’s horn from the app, a feature that Waymo says gives riders, including those with low vision, another way to find their car at pickup.

All of these steps are bringing Waymo closer to fuller commercial service that will include driverless vehicles. Until recently, all hailed self-driving Waymos had a human safety driver behind the wheel. The company began in November to put fully driverless vehicles into the fleet.

Technically, Waymo has had Android and iOS apps for some time. Interested riders would only gain access to the app after first applying on the company’s website. Once accepted to the early rider program, they would be sent a link to the app to download to their device.

There are still caveats to the announcement. The ability to download and sign up for the service won’t give users the kind of instant access they might expect. This isn’t Uber or Lyft. Instead, potential riders will be added to a waitlist. Once accepted, they will be able to request rides in the app. Riders will first be invited to join the Waymo early rider program, which requires signing a non-disclosure agreement, before moving into the public arm of Waymo One. Once on Waymo One, participants can invite guests and talk publicly about their experience.