Uber is totally revamping its app and laying the groundwork for what could become a new revenue stream
That was simple in 2009 when it first launched with only a black car service. Seven years later, Uber offers users rides with UberPool, UberX, UberBlack, UberSUV, UberXL, and UberAccess - and that's not even naming all of the kinds of rides it offers.
The wealth of choices has become a burden in the current version of Uber's app, especially for new users who don't know the difference between the various types of rides.
"Honestly if you're using this, you can't even tell what is Select, what is Access. Is Access a VIP service? Well actually what it is a wheel chair disability service," Uber CEO Travis Kalanick told reporters during a briefing at Uber headquarters this week. "We needed a new system to deal with the growing set of features that were sort of piling up on the older design."
On Tuesday, the ride-hailing company is unveiling a totally revamped version of its app that not only moves it closer to just pushing a button to get a ride, but one that also lays the groundwork for what could unlock a big new revenue stream for the company as it moves closer to a much-anticipated public stock offering.
Much like Facebook or Twitter start status updates with a question, Uber's prompt makes a user input their destination first and foremost because everything in the app now entirely revolves around it.
Once it knows your destination, the app lays out how much it will cost with each ride option - UberX, UberPool, etc - and the difference in arrival times.
Uber is also doing a lot more guess work upfront in predicting where you want to go based on how you've used the app before. If you're hailing a ride in the morning to go to work, Uber might suggest your office address first if it's picked up a pattern of use.
The new app is also going to be the first to integrate with a phone's calendar (with a user's permission) to show the address of the user's next meeting without having to copy paste it into the destination field.
Even better, if you're trying to meet up with a group of friends one evening, the app can search your contacts for the name of one friend in the group (again with permission), figure out the group's location temporarily and direct the Uber driver to meet up with them wherever they are - no need to send text messages to your friends inquiring about their current whereabouts.
"So many apps we use, I don't know if it's like Snapchat or Facebook or different messenger products or Google etc., they're in the business of actually taking a little slice of time away from you and selling that time and selling that attention," Kalanick said. "Uber has a more unique business model in that our job is to give time back. We want to take the most valuable resource that we have and give it back to people."
Uber's new 'in-flight entertainment'
Instead of staring at a map on a phone the whole ride, Uber passengers will now have what the company calls an Uber Feed, information that's tailored to fit an individual's ride, on their app.
For example, if someone is en route to a restaurant, Uber has partnered with Yelp to display recommendations for some of the best dishes in the app. If a rider is headed to a train station, then the transit schedule will pop up and tell them how soon the next departure is.
It's meant to be fun even if the person is running late. There's an exclusive Snapchat filter riders can unlock with information about their ETA so they can tell their friends in a more entertaining way that they're running late.
Uber is also building UberEATS into the feed so a user on the way home can see what restaurants are available to deliver and exactly how long it will take them to deliver your food. These aren't just generic calculations of 45-50 minutes though. Since Uber knows how long a passenger will be in the car, it will show in the app exactly how long after they get home the food will arrive.
"If you're really lucky, you can time it so that you and your burrito arrive at your doorstep at the exact same time," Yamashita said.
While simultaneously arriving at the same time as dinner is a fun and useful feature, having a destination and knowing an individual's time in the car unlocks what could be a potential revenue stream for the company: advertising.
While Uber has denied that it's getting into the ads business, it's not a stretch to imagine that this new Uber feed could one day have coupons for the restaurant near where a customer is headed to or a discount code for the museum that a tourist is about to visit. Since Uber also knows how long a passenger will be in the car, it could also show its captive audience movie trailers if they're headed to a theater.
By having information about both the passenger, their destination, and a determined set of minutes, Uber could finally be the company that wins location-based advertising - something Foursquare tried to do by offering coupons for check-ins but never quite turned into a sustainable business.
For now though, there's no plans to show advertising, and the partnerships Uber has struck are meant to be information added for its riders, not extra dollars in its pocket. It's easy to see though how Uber could turn on another revenue stream in the future should it need to boost its business ahead of going public.
"We ask you for your destination because we want you to get there as fast as possible, but we want to do more than just get you to your destination," Yamashita said. "We want to make sure that the trip as well as your arrival is special as well."
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