Hailing an Uber in India is a whole different game. Addresses are non-existent or rarely useful, while most people are using older smartphones in a place with limited mobile-data speeds. To tackle such challenges, Uber Technologies Inc. is rolling out new features in the world’s second-most populous nation. Customers can book rides on a new, lighter web-based version of the app. In the coming weeks, the San Francisco-based company will introduce a “Request for Guest” feature that lets users book trips on behalf of someone else, even those without a mobile phone. “Call to Ride,” a feature being piloted in Pune, lets people make a voice call to book a trip from popular locations by providing an alphanumeric code displayed on signage at a booking point.
“We are not here to build the ‘cool new thing’, we want to work on making the most impact on the widest possible base,” said Daniel Graf, Uber’s head of product, who was on a three-city tour in India to learn what it’s like to move around. Although Uber launched four years ago and now has 450,000 drivers in 29 cities, it’s locked in competition with ANI Technologies Pvt’s Ola service. The two companies have been neck-and-neck in terms of app downloads and rides per day this year, according to several published reports. Ola, which debuted two years before Uber and is seeking to raise $2 billion in a funding round, already partly raised from SoftBank Group Corp., has 800,000 vehicles and operates in 110 cities.
Ride-hailing providers not only have to find ways to deal with slow-moving traffic and mobile web connectivity, they also are working to make their services more affordable. Uber is already advertising “paisa vasool” (colloquial for “value for money”) pool fares starting as low as 29 rupees (45 cents) in cities such as Bangalore, putting rides within reach of those who usually commute by buses and three-wheeler autorickshaws. “This trip is about immersing yourself in the experience,” said Manik Gupta, head of maps, who joined Graf on the tour. The third Uber executive on the fact-finding mission to New Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad was Peter Deng, head of rider experience. The trio were seeking to gain a deeper understanding of users and local customs, and also witness gridlocked traffic firsthand, they said. In Hyderabad, Graf said the UberMOTO motorcycle ride he took “was smooth.” “We are signaling our strong commitment by investing in products like motorbike rides and ridepooling,” he said.
During the trip, the three said they lost connectivity several times while trying to summon cabs through the app, got shunted from 4G to 3G networks with far lower speeds, struggled to pay for rides in cash, visited riders’ homes to listen to woes about location accuracy and arrival time reliability and sat down with drivers to talk about earnings predictability and fare transparency. “We want to go as broad and make the Uber experience as seamless as possible,” Graf said.