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Uber overhauls app to start with the destination, builds in greater use of AI

Can soon add contacts as destinations and connect calendar events to get alerts and so on

Harichandan Arakali
Published: Nov 3, 2016 03:34:54 PM IST
Updated: Nov 3, 2016 03:38:07 PM IST

Uber overhauls app to start with the destination, builds in greater use of AI

To try out Uber’s new app, I decided to call a cab for my wife from her place of work to home, from my office. The result was an inelegant non-intuitive back-and-forth among the three of us on the phone—me, the Uber cabbie and my wife. Still, she and the driver located each other soon enough and she got home safely.

That back-and-forth, however, will be a temporary experience. It is the result of Uber Technologies, probably the world’s most valuable startup, overhauling its ride-hailing app. And that very useful option of calling a cab for a friend has disappeared—it will come back soon. If you folks are regular users of Uber, and ride-hailing in general, as I am, you’re probably already part of that pampered set, which takes high-quality user-experience on a smartphone app for granted.

Therefore, when a feature goes missing, it can be jarring. That, however, is most definitely not Uber’s intention. The wait for integration with a bunch of features, including such things as the ability to call a cab for a friend from halfway across the world, will only be until all current users get onto the new app.

What is already working on the new app is definitely an elegant step up from the previous version. It presents users with an interface that simply starts with one question: ‘Where to?’ It makes the task of calling a cab more intuitive and the app—with a new design to go with the overhaul, including futuristic looking cab icons scuttling around on a blue-tinted map—is available for both iOS and Android smartphones. Trip routes stand out in sharp black, so they’d be difficult to miss.

Uber has just started rolling the new app out, and among the options soon to be available is the ability to integrate the app with contacts, and use them as destinations. So answer ‘where to’ with the name of a friend or someone from your family, whose mobile phone number is on your contacts list, and Uber will use their current location—a message will be sent to that contact requesting location details.

I’d imagine that this will be even more easy between two users of Uber, who both have the app on their smartphones and have location services turned on.

The overhauled app shows Uber definitely wants to use machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) at every turn, and the more one uses the app, the more it will learn to suggest convenient options. The new interface already provides for three shortcuts on the screen, based on the most frequent trips a user takes—so you get one-tap cab request options.

In the coming days, the app will work with our calendars, and provide timely alerts to upcoming events as shortcuts on the main screen of the app. If it’s a meeting one needs a ride for, hailing one then becomes that much easier. In fact, a scheduler is already built into the ‘where to’ search bar, so booking a cab for a later date and time, is easier than in the previous version as well.

In the coming days, Uber promises many more trip-level integrations “around rider destinations that will include other utility based mobile applications, social media platforms, and news aggregators,” the company said in a press release on Thursday. Calling a ride for a friend will also be back as a feature by the end of this month, Uber says.

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