Ola CEO Bhavish Aggarwal
Images: REUTERS/Abhishek N. Chinnappa
Ola has partnered with Apple Music to put a music platform at the heart of a new connected-car experience, branded Ola Play, within some of the cabs on its network. The technology also allows a rider to watch videos, switch FM radio channels, control the volume of the music or adjust the air-conditioning within car — on a touchscreen panel within easy reach.
More features are to be added, including, eventually, such abilities as handing off playing a video or music from one’s personal devices to the car or even between two Ola cars. For now, the Apple Music available comprises playlists sourced from Apple under a commercial partnership. CEO Bhavish Aggarwal didn’t provide details, but said within India, the partnership is exclusive.
Ola Play is also envisaged as a platform for multiple partnerships — be they entertainment companies or online fashion vendors — to provide in-ride services over an estimated 60 million minutes and counting of its customers’ cumulative daily ride time. Two such partnerships are already in place, with Sony Entertainment and online fashion retail startup Fynd.
Running on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon hardware, Ola Play shifts the focus to the possibilities within each ride — from increased productivity for road warriors to entertainment and shopping for the more chilled-out riders.
“We want to make the Ola ride much better than a personal car ride,” Aggarwal said at an event in Bengaluru on Tuesday to launch the service. “We’re bringing an experience that is only found on luxury cars to every Ola ride.”
The service will be first available to customers of the Ola Select service, where customers pay an upfront subscription fee in return for various benefits such as flat fares, preference in getting ride bookings and so on. It will also be first rolled out in Bengaluru, Mumbai and New Delhi on the Ola Prime sedan service.
Over the next three months, Ola expects to cover every Prime cab, which number in the several tens of thousands. The service is also expected to be available at no extra charge, and Ola Play will soon pop up within users’ smartphone app for the Ola cab-hailing service.
Aggarwal, co-founder Ankit Bhati and COO Pranay Jivrajka — all graduates of the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay — started out as a holiday booking outfit in one room with a couple of telephones and a website, in Mumbai, about six years ago. Today the company has half a million cabs on its network, and the company leads Uber in the Indian market.
Prime cabs are in several tens of thousands, he said. In comparison, India has about 30 million cars, making it a market with one of the lowest car penetration ratios. This gives Ola the opportunity to “leapfrop” and bring mobility to very large numbers of people, he said.
For now, as Ola competes aggressively with Uber Technologies, which also runs a popular ride-hailing service in India, and which has recently launched a completely revamped app, the Indian company loses money on every ride at a consolidated level.
In individual categories and in some cities, Ola is hitting breakeven, Aggarwal said, and expects to hit breakeven at the consolidated level in “two to three years”.
India’s smartphone boom and the gradual rise of 4G LTE connectivity is enabling an amazing array of never-seen-before services in the country — from cab-hailing to doctor consultations to online payments. This has also attracted multinational companies such as Uber, Amazon and Alibaba to invest heavily in the Indian market.
Companies such as Ola in turn are trying to raise the game, hiring the best available talent, including from US universities and from Silicon Valley, to work on their products. While many factors outside their control, such as bad cell networks, can often be frustrations, attempts such as Ola Play can be seen as early indicators that some Indian companies are building products that will hold their own against the best in the world.