Uber on road to address ETA, connectivity issues in India

Uber riders in India can book rides via company’s webpage m.uber.com, without the need for Uber app. This is a feature unique to India.

Written by Hansa Verma | Bengaluru | Updated: November 18, 2017 12:37 pm
Uber app India cab book offline new features Uber is looking at features that are inspired by the peculiar problems of India. (From left to right: Daniel Graf, Peter Dang (Head of Rider Experience), Manik Gupta)

Uber is working on improving the accuracy of the blue or pin location dot in India where connectivity remains an issue. This is a bigger challenge in the Indian market due to the lack of systematic urban planning as a result of which people keep referring to landmarks instead of exact addresses.

So the ride hailing company is looking at features that are inspired by the peculiar problems of India. For instance, it is introducing cached destinations features, which works offline to address Internet problems, Manik Gupta, Senior Director of Product, Marketplace and Maps told Indianexpress.com. “We are giving you a set of pickup points when you enter a destination. That is very helpful because it makes it easier for people to get to the ride, and limitations of blue dot accuracy doesn’t come in the way,” said Gupta.

Notably, cached destinations (which will be rolled out in the next few weeks) work offline only while putting in destination in app, but users will need an active connection to book a ride. He added that the feature is essentially for intermittent networks or scenarios where Internet might not always be consistent.

“If you look at the addressing system in India, it is very randomised, and because of that users have figured out that relying on the exact address is not a very important thing for them to go anywhere. So they search for a landmark, and this is how people navigate. That’s why we have introduced cached search so that we can show top points of interest that people are familiar with it,” he pointed out. Of course, cached destinations will be personalised to a user as well as city.

Coming to the issue of Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA), which might not always be accurate, Manik says that this is a challenge that everybody in the industry faces. It isn’t just one thing that Uber takes into account while displaying the ETA on the app. Fundamentally, it depends on the route or distance, and traffic conditions based on that route.

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“So many things can go wrong here because the traffic can change and sometimes driver can miss a turn or the map data was not accurate for the route that we suggested. We are improving our models, trying to understand traffic better, and how we can generate better routes. It’s a lot of continuous improvements,” he added.

Gupta admits that a lot of problems, including Internet connectivity, are not India-specific. So a majority of innovations that the company explores is from a global perspective. “Even in the US we have issues from time to time with service providers. A lot of work that we’re doing is global like improving the overall accuracy of the blue dot and show customised pick-up points,” he said.

Reiterating his stance, Uber’s vice-president and head of product Daniel Graf said that some of the things that we see in India are similar in Brazil. However, the scenario is a little different in developed cities like London. “In India, occasionally I’m on a 3G network or even slower than that. In those conditions, to have the app working properly, you need to take special steps. Those are the conditions that we do not see in other places, like for example London,” Graf explained.

Now Uber riders in India can book rides via company’s webpage m.uber.com, without the need for Uber app. This is a feature unique to India, he added. Uber’s head of engineering Apurva Dalal told Indianexpress.com that most rides in India happen via cash, and that it is still one of the most dominant methods. “Especially first time riders don’t want to set up their wallets, quickly pay by cash and see how it works. First time riders use cash a lot more,” he said.

Disclaimer: The reporter is in Bengaluru attending the launch event at the invite of Uber India, which is paying for travel.

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