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Uber unveiled new app as ‘the operating system for your city life’


Uber is merging its ride-hailing and food delivery apps, adding a raft of new safety features, boosting alternate modes of travel like bikes, scooters, and public transportation, and getting involved in “virtual restaurants,” in addition to dozens of other product announcements that amount to a major bid to become, as the company’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi says, “the operating system for your everyday life.”

The company rolled out the product updates at an elaborate, Apple-like event in San Francisco on September 26th. But first, Khosrowshahi sat down for an exclusive interview with The Verge to explain why overhauling the app makes sense at a time when Uber is struggling to stem its massive cash losses, facing questions about its approach to safety, and fighting multiple regulatory battles around the country.

The company rolled out the product updates at an elaborate, Apple-like event in San Francisco on September 26th. But first, Khosrowshahi sat down for an exclusive interview with The Verge to explain why overhauling the app makes sense at a time when Uber is struggling to stem its massive cash losses, facing questions about its approach to safety, and fighting multiple regulatory battles around the country.

“FOR US, THE CHALLENGE IS:

HOW DO WE NAVIGATE THOSE COMPLICATIONS?”

“We don’t just live in the digital sphere, and the real world comes with all kinds of complications,” Khosrowshahi said. “And for us, the challenge is: how do we navigate those complications and how do we make sure that we’re a constructive part of everyone’s life?”

You can read more from our interview with Khosrowshahi here.

Uber’s announcing a lot of stuff, so let’s take one thing at a time.

THE HOME SCREEN

Uber is going to look different right out of the gate. When you first open the app, instead of seeing the map and the search bar asking where you’d like to go to, you’ll see two boxes: one that says “get a ride” and the other that says “order food.” Uber is merging its food delivery service Uber Eats into its main ride-hailing app.

But not every Uber customer will see the same screen. A second version of the homescreen keeps the familiar map and destination search bar, while adding two tabs on the bottom: rides and eats. Essentially Uber is doing an A/B test on its customers to see which one works best.

“What we do see is that the users who use our app both for riding and eating are our most satisfied customers,” Khosrowshahi said. “We have more touchpoints with them than anyone else, and our relationship becomes closer.”

SAFETY

Uber is introducing a new four-digit PIN verification system to make sure riders don’t get into the wrong vehicle. If you opt in, you’ll need to say the PIN out loud to your driver before he or she can start the ride.

Uber is also developing a new technology that uses ultrasound waves to automatically verify you’re in the right car, no PIN needed. The rider’s phone will send this ultrasonic signal to the driver’s phone to automatically verify the unique PIN. That technology should be ready to roll out in a few months, according to Sachin Kansal, head of safety product for Uber.

A new “on-trip reporting” feature will allow riders to report safety incidents — inappropriate behavior, a long stop, or an out-of-the-way route — during the ride, as opposed to having to wait until the ride is completed. Uber says its safety team will follow up after the trip.

Last year, Uber added a panic button to dial 911 from the app. Now, it will also let you text 911 in cities and counties that support this technology. Uber will automatically include the make, model, license plate number, and location of the vehicle in the text.

ULTRASONIC TECHNOLOGY

Uber is updating the “Real-Time ID Check” it introduced in 2016, in which drivers take selfies to verify their identity. Now, drivers will have to move their head around, blink, and smile to provide another layer of security.

Lastly, the app will now send a push notification to your phone if you get dropped off near a bike lane, so you don’t accidentally hit someone with the door.

The new safety products come amid serious allegations against Uber regarding its slack, risk-averse approach to rider safety. Uber’s special investigations team, which fields complaints from riders and drivers, is not allowed to escalate those issues to law enforcement or file official police reports “even when they get confessions of felonies,” according to The Washington Post. They are also not allowed to advise victims or potential victims of crimes to seek legal counsel.

Stories like these can lead to a loss of trust among riders, something Uber is very aware of. “We don’t think trust can be won with one thing,” Kansal told The Verge. “I think the way we want to win trust is by showing commitment, and that’s going to be long term.”

MULTIMODAL TRANSPORTATION

Did you hear? Uber loves buses and trains now! Yeah, sure. Uber has said it wants to compete with public transportation. It made that clear in its S-1 filing to the US Securities and Exchange Commission, but it later edited it out. Now, Uber says it wants to complement, not kill, public transportation, and it’s adding real-time scheduling and planning to its app to prove it.

Uber’s new transit feature is live in Denver and London, and today, the company is announcing a few more cities, including San Francisco, Mexico City, and Paris. New York City is coming later this year along with six other currently unnamed cities. To start out, it will just be scheduling and fare information, but Uber hopes to add ticketing (like it does in Denver) in the near future.

“TO SOME EXTENT WE’RE

COMPETING AGAINST

OURSELVES”

When you plug in your destination, if there is a subway or bus that will get you there, it will appear at the top of the list. And it will probably be the cheapest option. “To some extent, we’re competing against ourselves,” Khosrowshahi said. “But we have the philosophy that if there’s a better product out there for the user, and we think an integrated movement solution is better for the user, we should be the ones competing against ourselves versus others doing it.”

Uber’s electric bikes and scooters are getting a boost, too. Starting next month, Uber will begin showing bikes and scooters on the map, both its Jump bikes and scooters and rival Lime’s scooters as well. The company will make this change in the 28 cities where its two-wheeled options are available, plus a dozen US cities where Lime scooters are available via the Uber app.

Uber is also tackling the problem of depleted batteries by building a network of Jump charging kiosks, which will allow riders to swap out a depleted battery for a fresh one, on the go. Those kiosks will start to appear in select cities later this year.

“We’re making a very big bet on e-bikes,” Khosrowshahi said. “They make you feel like Superman when you’re on these things.”

FOOD

In addition to merging its Uber Eats app directly into its main app, Uber is also doubling down on its food delivery business. It’s rolling out a new rewards program for frequent food delivery customers, in which they can earn redeemable points every time they take an Uber ride or get Uber Eats.

Uber is also announcing allergy-friendly filters for Uber Eats, so people with allergies or dietary restrictions can be sure to avoid certain foods in their order. Now, when choosing a dish, you can communicate your allergy or dietary restriction to restaurants through the app. Lastly, Uber is partnering with celebrity chef Rachael Ray to launch a new, “virtual restaurant” that will only be available on Uber Eats. But Ray’s food will only be available in 10 cities for 10 weeks.

DRIVER

Uber is updating its app for drivers to include an “earnings estimator” to help drivers better keep track of their money. Uber says it wants to provide drivers more information so they can better understand what they can reasonably expect to earn — even before they take their first trip.

Uber is also adding a “demand heat map,” which highlights areas where more riders are requesting trips, and better predictions of when drivers can expect a trip request. And for drivers who get annoyed about dropping off a passenger in areas where there is less demand, Uber is rolling out a “Back to Busy Area” filter. If a driver completes a trip in a quiet area, they can turn this on to help filter trip requests back in the direction of their choice.

Whew! That’s a lot of stuff. Peter Deng, Uber’s head of rider product, said that the new app “becomes the canvas” as Uber seeks to grow its business into new businesses and lines of revenue. That means rewards programs, subscriptions, and other perks are going to be front and center in Uber’s app in the future.

“We can help save you money,” Deng said. “And we can help remove this paradox of choice of, ‘What do I do next?’”

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