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Uber’s ‘destinations’ feature could turn basically everyone into an Uber driver

Even you

Starting soon, Uber drivers looking to earn some extra money on their commutes to and from home — especially those who drive part-time — will be able to with the ride-hailing app's new "destinations" feature. Drivers heading in a specific direction can input their destination into the app, and Uber's algorithm will send them ride requests that appear along the way. Requests that would force them to deviate from their route would be filtered out.

The feature is billed as a way to heighten driver flexibility, but it could have much more far-reaching consequences. Uber loves to talk about how many of its drivers are only part time; 61 percent of drivers in the US have full- or part-time jobs outside Uber, the company says. If you never have to deviate from your route, suddenly anyone has the potential to be an Uber driver, regardless of employment status.

Result of a yearlong app overhaul

In addition, Uber is also changing up the design of the feature in the app that allows drivers to track their earnings, after reports that drivers in certain countries found the bar graphs confusing. These changes in the driver-facing version of Uber's app are the latest in a series of overhauls the company has executed in recent weeks. It's the product of a year's worth of research and development by over 100 Uber employees to improve the app experience for drivers, who have complained about certain aspects of the app's functionality.

The destinations feature will at first only be available to Uber drivers in San Francisco. After several weeks of testing the company hopes to roll it out to drivers in other cities. Maya Choksi, senior product manager at Uber, told The Verge that the change would hopefully help those drivers looking to pick up a fare on the way home without much hassle.

Choski noted that all cities are laid out differently, and where drivers live relative to where riders need rides varies. "The reason we do early beta tests is to make sure we're giving drivers a good experience, and not giving them requests that [are] taking them too far out of the way they need to go," she said.

App needs to work across boundaries, physical and cultural

Other changes, like altering the design of the earnings tracker, were implemented after drivers in India reportedly confused the bar graphs with symbols representing network connectivity. Choksi said Uber's designers are increasingly aware of how its app was being used across boundaries, whether they're physical, cultural, or educational.

"All the conventions that we think about... we can't take those as a given," she said. "We have to think about: it's this person, say they can't read at all, and they've never used a smartphone. How do we create something that's so simple and intuitive that they'll know exactly where to tap to find the information they want?"

The redesign is the result of data analysis, focus groups with drivers, and individual interviews. According to Wired, drivers complained to Uber about needing to log into a computer to complete administrative tasks, or needing to record their incomes with pen and paper.

But Uber may also be following the lead of its competitors on some of the app's new abilities. Last year, Lyft unveiled something called "Driver Destination," which the rival rideshare company said "unlocks a new opportunity for people to give a ride during their own driving trips — like when running errands, or commuting everyday to work." Essentially, it is a mirror image to the feature Uber just rolled out.