Uber

Uber bets on developing world growth with low-data Uber Lite

Posted by | Apps, Mobile, Ola, Startups, TC, Transportation, Uber, uber india | No Comments

“The next hundreds of millions of riders for us are going to come from outside of the United States”, Uber’s head of rider experience Peter Deng tells me. The transportation giant already sees 75 million riders per month and 15 million rides per day. But to grow in the developing world, it had to rethink its app to work on the oldest phones and slowest networks. So Deng’s team traveled the globe asking people what they needed from Uber, but also what they didn’t.

The result is Uber Lite.

It’s launching today in India before rolling out to more countries, though there’s still a waitlist form instead of a download link. The Android app takes up just 5 megabytes. “You delete three selfies, you have room for Uber” Deng laughs. 300-millisecond response time means its quick to hail a ride, even for the 4 percent of users in India on sluggish 2G networks. And by streamlining the design and only showing maps by request, it won’t burn much data for users on a budget.

Uber needs to score growth in developing markets after retreating while cutting deals with local winner like Didi in China, Grab in Southeast Asia, and a forthcoming arrangement with Yandex in Russia. India’s Ola rideshare service already has a ‘Lite” app that’s just 1 megabyte and a 45% share of the taxi market, compared to Uber’s 35%. Uber has reported has talked with Ola about a possible merger in India, sources have told TechCrunch and others. With the country making up 10% of Uber’s rides, it’s a market it can’t forfeit.

To reach its full potential, Uber has to start out-competing homegrown competitors. Success with Uber Lite could give it leverage with Ola and path to gaining more of it around the world.

“We know we’re not just a U.S. company, we’re a global company. Not only have we built this for the world, it was built in India” Deng tells me. Deng came to Uber in March 2017 after 10 years at Facebook’s various companies. It was early to the “Lite” idea, with its shrunken app reaching over 200 million users. 

But Deng says Uber Lite didn’t come from stripping down the main app, but building it up from scratch. “The team has traveled to markets around the world to do in home interviews to understand the needs of the customers.”

Compared to the 181 megabyte standard version, Uber Lite is a lot easier for low-storage phones to handle. Uber Lite launches not to a map or a text entry box, but instead a suggested nearby business or landmark based on your GPS. “You have to do less typing and can do more tapping” Deng explains. It also tries to guess your destination based on pre-cached popular city spots. You can input addresses, but Uber Lite won’t load a data-heavy map unless you purposefully grab for it. ‘Tap for map’.

Same goes for your driver’s ETA. After you’ve selected your vehicle type and hailed, you’ll just get a countdown to their arrival unless you tap to see them on their way. Payment for now is cash only. But soon Uber plans to add India’s popular Paytm payment platform and credit card options. It’s also still lacking notifications, which seem worth the data. More languages will come too.

Uber wouldn’t explain how, but it also revealed that it plans to offer offline hailing, possibly through some peer-to-peer Bluetooth mesh network or other technology. One other interesting test its running in India lets users punch in a code found at a bus stop to instantly hail a ride there. Another lets older or less phone savvy users phone in to an accessibility team that can hail a ride for them. It’s already offered web bookings. “The whole charter is to allow everyone around the world to experience Uber” Deng says.

What Uber wouldn’t skip in v1 was the in-app support and a way to share your ETA with loved ones so they can watch out for you. “We knew how important safety was in these markets. I’m really proud we took additional steps to empathize” Deng says.

The company is clearly trying to put the darker moments of its past behind it. While cynics might take the compassion talk as just lip service like the company’s big apology ad campaign, it’s also the reason some tech talent has stayed at or joined Uber. If the company is going to be unavoidable, making it secure and accessible is a pretty good reason to wake up in the morning.

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Uber lets you rate mid-ride before you forget feedback

Posted by | Apps, Health, Mobile, Startups, TC, Transportation, Uber | No Comments

“Last year was pretty hard, I’m not gonna lie,” says Peter Deng, Uber’s head of rider experience. But as part of new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s push to rebrand Uber around safety, Deng says, “we’ve seen the company shift to more listening.”

That focus on hearing users’ concerns prompted today’s change. Have a bad Uber ride when you’re busy and you might neglect to rate the driver or accidentally rush through giving them 5 stars. Forcing users to wait until a ride ends to provide feedback deprives them of a sense of control, while decreasing the number of accurate data points Uber has to optimize its service.

I had just this experience last month, leading me to tweet that Uber should let us rate trips mid-ride:

Uber & Lyft could let us rate drivers mid-ride, but only apply the ratings 5 minutes after a ride ends in case something goes better/worse before the end of the trip.

— Josh Constine (@JoshConstine) April 25, 2018

Uber apparently felt similarly, so it’s making an update. Starting today, Uber users can rate their trip mid-ride, providing a star rating with categorized and written feedback, plus a compliment or tip at any time instead of having to wait for the trip to end. “Every day 15 million people take a ride on Uber. If you can capture incrementally more and better feedback . . . we’re going to use that feedback to make the service better,” says Deng. Lyft still won’t let you rate until a ride is over.

Specifically, the data will be used to “recognize top-quality drivers . . . through a new program launching in June,” Uber tells me. “We’re going to be celebrating the drivers that provide really awesome service,” Deng says, though he declined to say whether that celebration will include financial rewards, access to extra driver perks or just a pat on the back.

But Uber will also now use the feedback options that appear when you give a less-than-perfect rating to tune the technology on its back end. So that way, if you say that the pickup was the issue, it might be classified as a “PLE – pickup location error,” and that data gets routed to the team that improves exactly where drivers are told to scoop you up. To ensure there’s no tension between you and the driver, Uber won’t share your feedback with them anonymously until the ride ends.

I asked if reminding users to buckle their seat belts would be in that Safety Center and Uber tells me it’s now planning to add info about buckling up. It’s been a personal quest of mine to dispel the myth that professionally driven vehicles are invulnerable to accidents. That idea, propagated by heavy-duty Ford Crown Victoria yellow cabs piloted by life-long drivers in cities they know doesn’t hold up, given Ubers are often lightweight hybrids often operating in places less familiar to the driver. 

The launch follows the unveiling of Uber’s new in-app Safety Center last month that gives users access to insurance info, riding tips and an emergency 911 button. After a year of culture and legal issues, Uber needs to recruit users who deleted it or check an alternative first when they need transportation.

Enhanced safety and feedback could earn their respect. As competition for ride sharing heats up around the world, all the apps will be seeking ways to differentiate. They’re already battling for faster pick-ups and better routing algorithms. But helping riders feel like their complaints are heard and addressed could start to work some dents out of Uber’s public image.

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Review: 2018 Lincoln Navigator

Posted by | Android, Ann Arbor, Apple, applink, automotive, automotive industry, detroit, Disney, Ford, land rover, Lincoln Navigator, michigan, navigator, radio disney, smartphone, TC, Uber, waze | No Comments

Michigan saw a historic amount of snowfall in 2018. And it’s not done. It’s snowing as I write this and it snowed nearly every day since I took delivery of this burgundy 2018 Lincoln Navigator. Excuse the dirty car shown in the photos. That’s life in the Midwest: half the year it’s impossible to keep cars clean of salt and grime and, to me, that’s the best time to review a vehicle. I’m happy to report the new Navigator is a comfortable refuge from the snowy winter.

I spent a week in the 2018 Navigator running from Flint, Michigan to Ann Arbor to Detroit. I filled up the 23-gallon tank enough to know to take it easy on the lively 3.5L EcoBoost V6. The 2018 Lincoln Navigator is luxurious and confident — but thirsty.

This is a luxury SUV. It’s not a sport truck and it’s not high-tech paradise, though it can play the part of both. The new Navigator was clearly built to be as comfortable as possible, and along the way Lincoln constructed one of the best luxury SUVs on the market.

Review

Winter hit Michigan hard this year and I found the ditch in my 2012 Dodge Durango R/T several times. It started snowing in December and didn’t stop until halfway through March. I grew up in Michigan and still live in the state. Driving in snow doesn’t bother me, though jumping into an unfamiliar vehicle and navigating snow-covered roads can be challenging. But not in this Navigator. I found it handles snow and slush and ice without an issue.

The 2018 Lincoln Navigator is a full-size SUV. It sits as high as a Ford F-150 and tends to lumber about as such. The ride is confident and stable. There’s little sway on tight expressway ramps and the automatic four-wheel drive quickly activates when a tire starts to spin.

This Navigator isn’t a sport truck, but it gets up and goes thanks to Ford’s fantastic 3.5L EcoBoost V6. This six-cylinder twin-turbo kit has found its way into nearly every full-size platform Ford offers. The Navigator is gifted with an updated version of the engine and it offers ample power across its range. The 3.5L surprises in this massive luxury SUV. It’s lively and powerful and more than enough to make the ride comfortable. During my time with the truck, I never felt at a loss of power, though I tried.

The engine is key to the Navigator’s appeal on several levels. First, 3.5L V6 offers decent fuel economy if driven conservatively while offering a decent bit of excitement if driven with that intent. Second, it allows Lincoln to say the Navigator is able to tow 600 lbs more than the Cadillac Escalade, which features a massive 6.2L V8. While both vehicles can ably pull a pontoon, the Lincoln does so with 510 lb.-ft of torque over Cadillac’s 460 — though without a boat of my own, I’m unable to confirm if the difference is felt in the real world.

The steering is light and responsive, though it’s impossible to forget this is a massive vehicle. It drives like a truck — though not your grandfather’s work truck. The driver sits in a commanding position that makes for good visibility. The vehicle’s suspension lets it cruise over rough roads and most bumps are absorbed. It’s a big SUV and there’s a fair amount of body roll on on-ramps. Parking isn’t an issue. There are plenty of cameras positioned around the vehicle to help maneuver this land yacht.

The interior of the new Navigator stuns. Wood, leather and chrome adorn the surfaces and walks close to the line of bling. It begs the confirmation that it ultimately comes from an American automaker. Take the badging off the interior and it could easily be mistaken as a luxury European SUV — though this Navigator is bigger than anything offered across the pond.

It’s roomy inside. Storage is abundant but cleverly hidden so as not to look like a minivan. There’s plenty of leg room for second-row passengers while the third row is surprisingly roomy.

The seats are something special. Sure, they’re comfortable and supportive like any found in high-end SUVs. It’s their design that sets them apart. The cushions jet out from a large back support making them look more like an Eames lounger than an overstuffed leather recliner. The design is a stark departure from most automotive seats, and I’m a fan.

The back seats are not nearly as comfortable. They’re supportive and offer several seating positions. In this tester, the rear seat is equipped with a center console that sports a small LCD screen that displays the media currently playing. The kids love it and I’m sure Uber passengers would too. As a parent to two kids, I found it annoying to cede control of the radio to the backseat. Thankfully there’s a button above the climate controls that disables the backseat controls, because I can only listen to Radio Disney for so long.

Tech

There’s an LCD screen mounted in the center of the dash. It’s large enough to be usable though not distracting. The best part? The screen doesn’t show fingerprints. There’s clearly a coating over the screen that somehow, magically, makes fingerprints invisible. Glare doesn’t seem to be an issue, though, as previously mentioned, it’s been snowing for a week and I haven’t seen the sun at all during my testing.

The 2018 Lincoln Navigator is equipped with a Lincoln-badged version of the Ford Sync 3 infotainment system. The automaker rolled out this system with 2016 models and it’s a massive improvement over previous Sync versions. It’s not the best infotainment system available, but it’s good enough. Vehicle functions and controls are in logical places and Ford’s AppLink system offers support for some third-party apps now, including Waze .

Android Auto and CarPlay are also available when used with compatible devices. I’ve grown to avoid these systems and prefer to stick with most systems developed by automakers. I was initially a fan of CarPlay, but Apple has yet to advance the platform, and now several years after its launch, it feels dated and unusable.

The Navigator’s smartphone app is clever. Need to put in navigation info? With the Lincoln Way app, drivers can input a destination on their smartphone app before they get into the vehicle and send those directions to the Navigator. It’s much easier than entering the destination through the in-vehicle system. The app also lets drivers start the car, order roadside assistance or service and locate the car.

Competition

This new Navigator is in a class of its own. The Cadillac Escalade’s interior is vastly inferior, the Mercedes-Benz GLS is dated and much less roomy. The Lexus LX and Toyota Land Cruiser have better off-road chops, but the platform is over 10 years old and it shows. Land Rover’s SUVs are more expensive and its three-row models are much smaller and less powerful than the Navigator, though new models are coming out soon.

There simply isn’t a more luxurious, roomy six- or seven-passenger vehicle available than the new Navigator.

I’m in the market for a new vehicle and recently test drove several used 2017 Lincoln Navigators. It’s a nice truck, but lacks the wow factor of the 2018 Navigator. Where past models were clearly a rebadged Ford, complete with similar plastic trim and equipment, the new Navigator is a fresh departure from its Ford counterpart, the Expedition. Similarities between the two models still exist, though they’re less pronounced, with the Lincoln clearly getting the nod toward luxury.

The Navigator of today is much better than the Navigator of yesterday. Lincoln improved the Navigator in nearly every way. The ride, the comfort, the technology. Everything is better, and that’s impressive and must be noted.

The Navigator is 25 years old this year. It was one of the first American-made luxury SUVs, but it has nearly always been overshadowed by the Escalade — and for good reason. The Escalade has always offered more everything than the Navigator. But not anymore.

The new Navigator sets the bar. It’s luxurious. It’s powerful. The Navigator is wonderful.

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Regulation could protect Facebook, not punish it

Posted by | Apps, Cambridge Analytica, Facebook, Government, instagram, Mark Zuckerberg, Mobile, Opinion, Policy, regulation, Social, TC, Uber, WhatsApp | No Comments

You know what tech startups hate? Complicated legal compliance. The problem is, Facebook isn’t a startup any more, but its competitors are.

There have been plenty of calls from congress and critics to regulate Facebook following the election interference scandal and now the Cambridge Analytica debacle. The government could require extensive ads transparency reporting or data privacy protections. That could cost Facebook a lot of money, slow down its operations, or inhibit its ability to build new products.

But the danger is that those same requirements could be much more onerous for a tiny upstart company to uphold. Without much cash or enough employees, and with product-market fit still to nail down, young startups might be anchored by the weight of regulation. It could prevent them from ever rising to become a true alternative to Facebook. Venture capitalists choosing whether to fund the next Facebook killer might look at the regulations as too high of a price of entry.

STANFORD, CA – JUNE 24: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (R) hugs U.S. President Barack Obama during the 2016 Global Entrepeneurship Summit at Stanford University on June 24, 2016 in Stanford, California. President Obama joined Silicon Valley leaders on the final day of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The lack of viable alternatives has made the #DeleteFacebook movement toothless. Where are people going to go? Instagram? WhatsApp? The government already missed its chances to stop Facebook from acquiring these companies that are massive social networks in their own right.

The only social networks to carve out communities since Facebook’s rise did so largely by being completely different, like the ephemeral Snapchat that purposefully doesn’t serve as a web identity platform, and the mostly-public Twitter that caters to thought leaders and celebrities more than normal people sharing their personal lives. Blockchain-based decentralized social networks sound nice but may be impossible to spin up.

That’s left few places for Facebook haters to migrate. This might explain why despite having so many more users, #DeleteFacebook peaked last week at substantially fewer Twitter mentions than the big #DeleteUber campaign from last January, according to financial data dashboard Sentieo. Lyft’s existence makes #DeleteUber a tenable stance, because you don’t have to change your behavior pattern, just your brand of choice.

If the government actually wants to protect the public against Facebook abusing its power, it would need to go harder than the Honest Ads Act that would put political advertising on Internet platforms under the same scrutiny regarding disclosure of buyers as the rules for TV and radio advertising. That’s basically just extra paperwork for Facebook. We’ve seen regulatory expenses deter competition amongst broadband internet service providers and in other industries. Real change would necessitate regulation that either creates alternatives to Facebook or at least doesn’t inhibit their creation.

That could mean only requiring certain transparency and privacy protections from apps over a certain size, like 200 million daily users. This would put the cap a bit above Twitter and Snapchat’s size today, giving them time to prepare for compliance, while immediately regulating Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Google’s social problem child YouTube.

Still, with Facebook earning billions in profit per quarter and a massive war chest built up, Mark Zuckerberg could effectively pay his way out of the problem. That’s why it makes perfect sense for him to have told CNN “I’m not sure we shouldn’t be regulated” and that “There are things like ad transparency regulation that I would love to see.” Particular regulatory hurdles amount to just tiny speed bumps for Facebook. Courting this level of regulation could bat down the question of whether it should be broken up or its News Feed algorithm needs to change.

Meanwhile, if the government instituted new rules for tech platforms collecting persona information going forward, it could effectively lock in Facebook’s lead in the data race. If it becomes more cumbersome to gather this kind of data, no competitor might ever amass an index of psychographic profiles and social graphs able to rival Facebook’s.

A much more consequential approach would be to break up Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. Facebook is trying to preempt these drastic measures with Zuckerberg’s recent apology tour and its purchase of full-page ads in nine newspapers today claiming it understands its responsibility.

Establishing them as truly independent companies that compete would create meaningful alternatives to Facebook. Instagram and WhatsApp would have to concern themselves with actually becoming sustainable businesses. They’d all lose some economies of data scale, forfeiting the ability to share engineering, anti-spam, localization, ad sales, and other resources that a source close to Instagram told me it gained by being acquired in 2012, and that Facebook later applied to WhatsApp too.

Both permanent photo sharing and messaging would become two-horse races again. That could lead to the consumer-benefiting competition and innovation the government hopes for from regulation.

Yet with strong regulation like dismantling Facebook seeming beyond the resolve of congress, and weak regulation potentially protecting Facebook, perhaps it’s losing the moral high ground that will be Facebook’s real punishment.

Facebook chief legal officer Colin Stretch testifies before congress regarding Russian election interference

We’ve already seen that first-time download rates aren’t plummeting for Facebook, its App Store ranking has actually increased since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, and blue chip advertisers aren’t bailing, according to BuzzFeed. But Facebook relies on the perception of its benevolent mission to recruit top talent in Silicon Valley and beyond.

Techies take the job because they wake up each day believing that they’re having a massive positive influence by connecting the world. These people could have founded or worked at a new startup where they’d have discernible input on the direction of the product, and a chance to earn huge return multiples on their stock. Many have historically worked at Facebook because its ads say it’s the “Best place to build and make an impact”.

But if workers start to see that impact as negative, they might not enlist. This is what could achieve that which surface-level regulation can’t. It’s perhaps the most important repercussion of all the backlash about fake news, election interference, well-being, and data privacy: that losing talent could lead to a slow-down of innovation at Facebook that might  leave the door open for a new challenger.

For more on Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, read our feature pieces:

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Video: The driver of the autonomous Uber was distracted before fatal crash

Posted by | arizona, Automation, autonomous car, car sharing, commuting, Gadgets, pittsburgh, San Francisco, self-driving car, spokesperson, toronto, Toyota, transport, Uber, United States, volvo | No Comments

The Tempe, Arizona police department have released a video showing the moments before the fatal crash that involved Uber’s self-driving car. The video includes the view of the street from the Uber and a view of minder behind the wheel of the autonomous Uber.

Warning: This video is disturbing.

Tempe Police Vehicular Crimes Unit is actively investigating
the details of this incident that occurred on March 18th. We will provide updated information regarding the investigation once it is available. pic.twitter.com/2dVP72TziQ

— Tempe Police (@TempePolice) March 21, 2018

The video shows the victim crossing a dark street when an Uber self-driving Volvo XC90 strikes her at 40 mph. It also shows the person who is supposed to be babysitting the autonomous vehicle looking down moments before the crash. It’s unclear what is distracting the minder. It’s also unclear why Uber’s systems did not detect and react to the victim who was clearly moving across its range of sensors at walking speeds.

Uber provided the following statement regarding the incident to TechCrunch:

Our hearts go out to the victim’s family. We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident.

Since the crash on March 19, Uber has pulled all its vehicles from the roads operating in Pittsburgh, Tempe, San Francisco and Toronto. This is the first time an autonomous vehicle operating in self-driving mode has resulted in a human death. In a statement to TechCrunch, the NHTSA said it has sent over its “Special Crash Investigation” team to Tempe. This is “consistent with NHTSA’s vigilant oversight and authority over the safety of all motor vehicles and equipment, including automated technologies,” a spokesperson for the agency told TechCrunch.

“NHTSA is also in contact with Uber, Volvo, Federal, State and local authorities regarding the incident,” the spokesperson said. “The agency will review the information and proceed as warranted.”

Toyota also paused its self-driving testing in the US following the accident.

This tragic accident is the sort of situation self-driving vehicles are supposed to address. After all, these systems are supposed to be able to see through the dark and cannot get distracted by Twitter.

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Lyft is testing a new rider experience with a small percentage of users

Posted by | Apps, commuting, Lyft, Mobile, mobile app, TC, transport, Uber | No Comments

 Lyft is giving around 1 percent of its riders access to a different, beta user experience in its mobile app, starting today. The new look for passengers offers the same essential functionality, but is definitely a departure in terms of how the interface works for riders. Lyft says via a spokesperson that the new look and feel is “an exercise to learn more about our users” but… Read More

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Teralytics wants to tap telcos’ big data to help cities get smarter about Uber and Lyft

Posted by | Advertising Tech, artificial intelligence, Atomico, automotive, big data, big data analytics, digital advertising, Europe, Fundings & Exits, Horizons Ventures, Lakestar, Lyft, Mobile, privacy, smart cities, Startups, TC, telecoms, Teralytics, Transportation, Uber, urban planning | No Comments

 Teralytics’s big data analytics platform is targeting government agencies and transport companies wanting to understand complex problems relating to human mobility — from how to relieve transport pressure points to monitoring urban air quality without the need for CO2 sensors. Just plug in telecos’ data to play… Read More

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Uber shows off its autonomous driving program’s snazzy visualization tools

Posted by | artificial intelligence, automotive, autonomous vehicles, Gadgets, self-driving cars, TC, Transportation, Uber | No Comments

 Uber’s engineering blog has just posted an interesting piece on the company’s web-based tool for exploring and visualizing data from self-driving car research. It’s a smart look at an impressive platform, and definitely has nothing to do with a long piece published last week lauding a similar platform in use by one of Uber’s most serious rivals, Waymo. Read More

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