Uber’s redesigned app is more about the journey than the destination

uber app redesign news self driving exterior 02
Uber, the internet startup worth tens of billions of dollars, has its fingers in countless pies. It’s developing a fleet of self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, a few of which have already hit public roads and driven Uber users. It’s investing in a budding subsidiary, Uber Eats, that delivers food from restaurants to doorsteps. And in some regions around the world, Uber drivers transport packages across villages, towns, and even cities. But Uber is a ridesharing service first and foremost and it holds in special reverence the Uber app — the eponymous mobile client on its 40 million users employ to hail cabs, SUVs, private cars, minivans, and more. Case in point: On Wednesday, it announced a drastic redesign of its app that promises to remake the “Uber experience” from top to bottom.

Uber’s long-in-the-tooth app will soon be replaced with a client that is nearly unrecognizable. It is faster and “more stable” on some devices and platforms than the current app, Uber said. But significantly, it represents a shift in Uber’s longtime paradigm. Rather than place ridesharing features front and center, as did the outmoded Uber app, it integrates third-party services in a scrollable window of tiles called the Uber Feed.

If you are familiar with Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, the Uber Feed will feel familiar. Swipe up from the bottom and you will see contextual content from apps from Uber’s partners: Uber Eats will supply a list of restaurant delivery options, Snapchat will supply custom filters, including a handful that prominently features your ETA, and Yelp will surface the most popular and highly rated nearby dishes.

The integrations do not stop there, of course. Uber already had a deal with Pandora that provided the internet radio’s stations to drivers, but it, along with Spotify, now lives in Uber’s new Feed. The company said it will add new apps and services over time.

The new Uber app’s contextuality extends beyond third-party integrations. It surfaces destination “shortcuts” — places you frequently travel to and travel from — that appear gradually, over time, as it learns your commutes and routines. You might eventually see a shortcut to work, for instance, or home. If you take a train or other form of public transit, it will attempt to align your ride with transit schedules so that you do not experience a layover. It will automatically recommend destinations based on your upcoming appointments. It will also let you request your contacts’ current location to ease pickups and carpooling.

The endgame, in part, is an entertainment portal meant to pass the least appealing element of Uber’s ride-hailing experience: sitting in traffic. The old app offered little more than your destination, charted, or number of miles and minutes you traveled during your route and the number of miles and minutes remaining. The new app, in stark contrast, offers timely, relevant, and ephemeral escapism. “Having a set of experiences and information that are catered to you while you’re in the care can make the trip better and make you more informed about your destination,” Uber chief Travis Kalanickt told Wired.

There is an ulterior motive underlying Uber Feeds, too, and it involves a new window into Uber users’ behaviors: by emphasizing integrated experiences over the standalone apps and clients on riders’ smartphones, the company gains a new, potentially lucrative glimpse into which services command the most attention during rides — and perhaps more importantly, which attract more by location and time of day. There is evidence of such data mining already — Uber’s new app requests access to your calendars, address books, friends’ locations, and more.

It is a strategy somewhat akin to Tencent’s WeChat, a multiplatform messaging app most popular in Asia. The platform has hundreds of millions of users play games, order delivery, chat with friends, and even book flights from a unified, cohesive interface. Tellingly, a number street vendors in China accept payment through WeChat — and some in lieu of cash.

But thankfully, Uber is not opening the proverbial floodgates just yet. It partnered with Yelp, Snapchat, Foursquare, Pandora at launch, with transit integrations set to launch “soon,” but it appears intent on limiting the number of potentially intrusive — and invasive — apps that make up the Uber Feed.

“The question becomes, how frequently do people have the need for this information in this moment?” Jesse James Garrett, founder of user interface firm Adaptive Path, told Wired. “You’re literally on your way to the restaurant. How many people are actually going to feel the compulsion to figure out what they want to order in the car, on the way to the restaurant? And, among the people who do feel that compulsion, how frequently do they feel it?”

Uber Feeds may be the new Uber app’s foremost improvement, but the usability enhancements extend beyond the obvious. The new client splits Uber’s myriad of ridesharing services, which include Uber Pool, UberX, Uber Black, Uber SUV, Uber Assist, and more, into simplified categories such as economy, premium, and extra seats. Tapping on a category reveals a submenu from which you can select a particular vehicle type, see the trip’s estimated fare, get a rough pickup time, and send travel details to friends.

Uber’s fighting to remain relevant in an industry filled with well-funded competitors. The service, which offers ridesharing in 450 cities around the world, faces formidable domestic challenges from Lyft, a San Francisco-based transportation company available in 220 cities and recently attracted a $500 million investment from General Motors. Abroad, the service’s growing list of encroaching competitors includes Indian ridesharing company Ola, which has over 450,000 cars in its network of more than 102 cities, southeast Asia taxi service Grab, which recently raised $680 million, and Didi Chuxing, a Chinese ridesharing service that operates in more than 400 cities and whose list of pedigreed backers includes Apple, Tencent, and Asian retail juggernaut Alibaba.

Ola, Lyft, Grab, and Didi Chuxing announced a partnership in December 2015 to launch a “joint product” by the end of 2016. Earlier this year, Uber sold its Chinese branch, UberChina, to Didi after losing $2 billion in the country.

Uber is hoping to win riders back. “We designed the new Uber app around you — and our core beliefs that time is a luxury and that the information you need should always be at your fingertips,” Yuhki Yamashita, Uber’s senior product manager, wrote in a blog post. “The new Uber experience is reimagined around a simple question — ‘Where to?’ After all, you use Uber to get somewhere — or to someone. And by starting with your destination, we can tailor the journey to you.”


Lyft wants to partner with cities to add bike and scooter sharing

Lyft announced a multi-mode transportation plan to bring bike and scooter sharing to cities. To kick off the new initiative Lyft will invest $1 million to help nonprofits establish income eligible transportation programs.

The world can be your oyster with a little help from the best travel apps around

Traveling doesn't need to be a time-consuming nuisance. Our handpicked selection of the best travel apps will keep things simple, whether you need cost comparisons for hotels or directions to renowned eateries.

Terrafugia Transition flying car will finally go on sale in 2019

The Terrafugia Transition flying car will go on sale next year, roughly a decade after the first prototype rolled out of its hangar. Terrafugia promises improvements, including a hybrid powertrain, to make up for the long wait.

Want to watch Netflix in bed or browse the web? We have a tablet for everyone

There’s so much choice when shopping for a new tablet that it can be hard to pick the right one. From iPads to Android, these are our picks for the best tablets you can buy right now whatever your budget.

The best Windows apps

Not sure what apps you should be downloading for your newfangled Windows device? Here are the best Windows apps, whether you need something to speed up your machine or access your Netflix queue. Check out our categories and favorite picks!

Keep your driving record squeaky clean with these top-flight radar detectors

Nobody likes getting a speeding ticket, but these gadgets can help. Check out our picks for the best radar detectors on the market, from the likes of Valentine One, Escort, and Whistler.
Product Review

With a stick shift and RWD, the Genesis G70 does luxury with a side of sporty

The 2019 Genesis G70 is Korea’s first attempt to take on the vaunted German trio of BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Competition doesn’t come much tougher than that.

These are the best video chat apps to help you stay in touch

Though still relatively new, video chat apps can help you connect with people from around the world. Here are our personal favorites to help you keep in touch regardless of smartphone OS.

Visual snapshots on Google Assistant provides your day at a glance

Google's artificially intelligent bot, Google Assistant, is available on smart home speakers, smart home devices, iOS and Android phones, and it can do a whole lot of work on your behalf. Here are all of its features.

Google Assistant’s new Visual Snapshot tab prepares you for the day

Ever wish you could get an instant update of your day at a glance? Google Assistant now can show you upcoming travel plans, deliveries, bills and more as a part of the new Visual Snapshot feature. It's available on Android and iOS.

Apple's third iOS 12 beta may help you save a lot of data

At this year's Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple unveiled its latest operating system, iOS 12. From app updates to group FaceTime, ARKit 2.0, and more, here are all the new features in iOS 12.

With flip-out lenses, the Vuze XR transforms from 360- to 180-degree VR camera

The Vuze XR is a compact, dual-lens camera with an integrated handle and a neat party trick: The back-to-back lenses can flip forward to transition from 360-degree two-dimensional video, to 180-degree three-dimensional video.
Product Review

Nintendo's Switch changes how you play games, and may change how you see them

The Nintendo Switch delivers on more new and interesting features than any console in recent memory. In many ways, it's the most inventive gaming device in recent memory, and it may be the best-designed console Nintendo has ever built…

We tested popular smartwatches to find the uncontested best

Tempted to buy a smartwatch? If so, then the growing number of great models available means you've got plenty to choose from. But which one should you pick? Here is our list of the best smartwatches.

Not sure if Amazon Prime is right for you? Here is everything you need to know

So what is Amazon Prime? Is the premium membership really worth the cost of admission? Here, we break down the service's multitude of features, so you can make an informed decision.

FCC begins accepting petitions to deny the T-Mobile and Sprint merger

T-Mobile and Sprint are hoping the third time is the charm for a merger. It comes just months after the carriers cited an inability to find common ground, extending yet again the long dance between the two telecom giants.

Huawei may use a perforated LCD display to create a bezel-less Huawei Mate 20

Huawei has apparently put in an order for massive, 6.9-inch OLED screens, which will be used on a new smartphone coming later this year. Potentially its 2018 Mate series phone, it will challenge other big-screen devices we're expecting.
Home Theater

Set your ears free with the best completely wireless earbuds

If you can't stand the tangle of cords, or you're just excited about completely wireless earbuds, you're going to need some help separating the wheat from the chaff. Our list serves up the best wireless earbuds around.

Some Samsung phones aren’t alerting users of app background processes

Worried that Facebook is spying on you? Some Samsung phones aren't correctly showing some apps on the App Permission Monitor, so users won't be alerted if an app tries to access certain permissions.

Google, Microsoft, Twitter, and Facebook team up on new data transfer project

Some of the largest tech companies in the world have teamed up to make data portability a little easier. The initiative is called the Data Transfer Project, and the likes of Google, Twitter, Microsoft, and Facebook are all on board.

Apple's new quick-charging adapter may only be available with 2018 iPhones

Apple's 2018 iPhone range is still a mystery. How many models will launch? What will they be called, and how big will the screens be? Here are all the rumors and everything we know so far.

Save the date: The LG V40 ThinQ may be announced in early October

The LG V30 was one of our favorite phones of 2017, and we're expecting big things from its successor in the later part of 2018. Here's absolutely everything we know about the upcoming LG V40 ThinQ.

Huawei is gaining on Apple as it aims for 200 million smartphone sales in 2018

Huawei aims to reach 200 million sales by the end of 2018, after passing 100 million sales earlier this month. With Apple only a whisker above 200 million sales last year, could Huawei exceed Apple this year?