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A true trailblazer

Uber ups the ante again for ride-hailing apps
Saturday, November 12, 2016 - 05:50

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With Uber's new app, users can connect their calendars, so that meetings and appointments (tagged with locations) will automatically appear in the app as "shortcuts".

I AM a big user of ridehailing apps - one of the biggest users I know. I use them to get to work, social events, and the airport. What's great about them is that they get me a ride whenever and wherever I need one.

For the unacquainted, ride-hailing apps allow us to book a ride online (no more hailing taxis off the street), make in-app payments using our credit cards, split the travel fare with friends, track a loved one's ride, and rate a driver based on trip experience.

So when Uber, arguably the world's ride-hailing pioneer, unveiled a redesigned app two weeks ago, describing it as faster, smarter and designed around users, I was sceptical. How can it one-up what is already a great service?

The answer, it turns out, is that it's doing that by taking more of our data.

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Already, Uber knows where we live and work, as well as the places that we frequent, when riders share this information in order to enable the "shortcuts" function when we input locations in the app.

It also knows our contacts - which it uses to make fare-splitting and ride-tracking possible. With the new app, Uber will know even more. In a blog post, it proclaims: "People are the new places". Riders can now sync their contacts to the Uber app and make a person their actual destination, instead of a place.

Uber says: "People use Uber to meet friends, whether it's at a concert or a night out. This means your destination is often a person. But figuring out exactly where they are involves a lot of texting back and forth."

Riders may soon simply type the name of a contact into the search bar, and have Uber send that contact a note to share his or her current location. Once Uber receives the destination, riders will be on their way.

What does this mean? Uber now knows who we meet, where our friends and family live, work or frequently visit, and the activities we engage in.

Uber could soon also be privy to our schedules and routines via its new app, with which users can connect their calendars, so that meetings and appointments (tagged with locations) will automatically appear in the app as "shortcuts".

While this lets customers easily book a ride with just one tap (no more having to launch the calendar app to find the right address to enter in the Uber app), this also means that Uber knows what we're up to all the time.

It's terrifying how we could end up revealing so much of our lives to an app, and potentially anyone else who gains access to it. Many riders will likely not mind - but only because of the greater convenience and interactivity it brings.

There's more. Once riders are on their way, Uber wants to help them make the most of their ride. It is creating a network of partner apps and will soon offer more new, collective and extended experiences tailored around where riders are headed.

Uber explains it like this: "Using Uber to get to the station? Check Transit to see upcoming departures for the train, bus, and subway. Headed somewhere delicious? Browse Yelp reviews right from the app.

"On your way to friends? Stream your favourite songs on Pandora to get you in the mood. And if UberEATS is in your city, order food on the way home so you and your burrito can arrive together."

It's an impressive but hardly surprising development. With so many apps vying for our attention and data, it makes sense for a behemoth like Uber to assimilate "value-adding apps" and share user data to serve users in a more targeted, effective way.

Partnerships are key in the new sharing economy. They improve service offerings and user experience, and enable cost savings through shared resources and functionality that would otherwise have to be acquired.

For companies, today is as good a time as any to ask: "Now who would make a great partner?"

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