Uber to accelerate India-first innovations

Sangeetha Chengappa Bengaluru | Updated on January 09, 2018

Daniel Graf, Vice- President and Head of Product, Uber

Launches website for basic smartphones

Cab aggregator Uber is furiously innovating for the Indian market with a slew of new features that will help it net a new set of customers and improve the app experience for existing customers.

The company has launched a light, web-based version of Uber, m.uber.com, for riders who have basic smartphones that can support web browsing, but cannot support mobile apps due to limited storage space, or for those want to book a ride from a tablet or a computer.

New features

It has also introduced three new features to its app, including offline search, in limited network areas, which Uber enables by caching the top points of interest in a city so that riders can enter their destinations in the app without having to wait for connection.

‘Call to Ride,’ which is being piloted in Pune, enables riders to call a single nationwide phone number and enter a numeric code displayed on a signage in a popular part of the city, to help Uber identify their location.

‘Request for a Guest’ feature allows riders to book a ride for family or friends in the same or different city. The guest does not need to have a smartphone or the Uber app, but will receive trip information via text SMS.

“As part of our efforts to enable global access to Uber, we are focussing on two key areas for riders — building solutions for those who don’t have access to the Uber app and enabling our existing rider app to work better in emerging markets” said Daniel Graf, Vice-President and Head of Product at Uber.

Pointing out that three-quarters of Uber’s rider base in markets such as India, Brazil and Indonesia use 2012 or older Android devices, he said one-third of the riders’ app sessions are on 3G or below networks. Therefore, the need to create a reliable app experience for riders in these conditions is paramount, he added.

Testing ground

Asked if these features are solely for the India market, Graf said: “This is a global announcement, and all our innovations touch the Indian and global markets. We introduced cash payments in India for the first time, and that innovation has now been rolled out in half of Uber’s global markets.”

Uber operates in 29 Indian cities and in 600 cities globally. In an interaction with BusinessLine last month, Amit Jain, President, Uber India and South Asia, said 1 per cent of a city’s rides across all modes of transportation happens on Uber.

Asked if the India team is contributing to Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group, which is dedicated to self-driving technologies, mapping and vehicle safety, Graf said: “A lot of the work done out of India is used by the ATG team.”

Uber is actively hiring to ramp up its 150-strong engineering team across all levels.

“We are looking for freshers, lateral hires with 4-7 years of experience and also senior-level hires with up to 20 years of experience in the areas of product, engineering, design and data science,” said Apurva Dalal, Head of Engineering, Uber India.

“The velocity at which we are innovating will require us to hire in the hundreds.”

Engineering centre

The company on Thursday opened an engineering office in Hyderabad, which will house its maps division. On why Hyderabad and not Bengaluru, Manik Gupta, Senior Director, Marketplace and Maps, Uber, said: “There is a whole ecosystem of companies working on maps in Hyderabad.”

One of Uber’s top commitments for investments is in handling ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival). “ETA is the first factor that contributes to a reliable ride for a customer ,and we are investing heavily to improve the quality of maps and our assessment of traffic conditions,” Gupta said.

Published on November 17, 2017

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