Uber has big aspirations and its updated app shows us its new direction. In an Apple-like unveiling event last week, the company’s CEO said he sees the future of Uber as “the operating system for your everyday life.” And if your life includes transportation — you or food delivery — Uber aims to be a part of it.
Up until the announcement, Uber had two separate apps, its ride hailing app and its food delivery service, similar to DoorDash and others that let you order from a variety of restaurants and have your food delivered for a fee. Now these two apps have become one. The company is testing a variety of new home screens that vary in how prominently Order Food is displayed in relation to Get a ride.
When I updated the app, I initially thought the new version had not yet been rolled out, but a closer look revealed a small fork and spoon icon labeled Eats at the bottom of the screen. Some users will see two big buttons, one for rides and one for food without the familiar map, so it will take an extra tap to schedule a ride. The company is testing the two versions to see which one works best. Grocery delivery may also be offered in the near future.
Soon you will have options in how you get from one place to another. For the eco-conscious and limber user, Uber is launching a new Jump bike with a removable battery that can be swapped out at charging stations. It will also include Lime scooters, the popular bright green electric scooters that hit the streets of Ogden last spring. (See the Standard Examiner’s “4 tips to make using Ogden’s new Lime scooter program more enjoyable.”) And in New York, users can hail a helicopter, the first step in Uber’s plan to take its service to the skies in an effort to relieve street-level congestion in some of the world’s busiest cities. Uber will also list nearby buses and trains as options.
While all of these services — ride hailing, food delivery, e-scooters, public transportation and more — are available from a number of different providers, Uber aims to combine them in a single app, and is well on its way. The convenience of one source for many services is appealing and helps in a number of other ways — fewer apps on your phone, fewer receipts for filing company expenses for reimbursement and fewer charges to check on your bank statement.
The new Uber isn’t just about service consolidation, it is also adding new safety features. First up is the problem of a rider getting into the wrong car, which happened to a colleague of mine who was on the way to Park City before noticing the driver had gone way beyond the turnoff for the University. And guess who gets stuck with the payment? That’s the original person who requested the ride and who must then request a refund.
To combat this problem, Uber is offering a new four-digit PIN verification system that makes sure a driver can’t start the ride until you’ve spoken the PIN to him or her. In the meantime, Uber is working on a technology to automate the verification process by sending a signal from the rider’s phone to the driver’s phone. This new process should be available before the end of the year.
The updated app now includes a feature to quickly alert emergency services to a problem. Tap the blue shield on your ride map (remember not to close the app when you get in your Uber) and then the 911 button. A text to the 911 dispatcher (and Uber) will be generated that includes your Uber car’s make, year, color, plus your current location and destination. All you have to do is complete the sentence: “My emergency is.”
And there’s one more safety feature that will be particularly appreciated by bike riders. The app will send a push notification to your phone if you are dropped off near a bike lane to prevent you from opening the car door into an oncoming cyclist.
While I applaud Uber’s efforts to better protect riders, there’s really no replacement for people being aware of their surroundings. Take your eyes off your phone and pay attention, whether you’re getting into a car, riding in one or getting out.