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Uber just streamlined the hell out of its app

Uber just streamlined the hell out of its app


But it also added a lot of clutter

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Uber is rolling out a major redesign of its app today — the most significant update since 2012. The changes, which are only for users and not drivers, are supposed to offer a much cleaner interface, less confusion around which service to request, and shortcut options to frequent destinations.

The new app, which The Verge saw during a media briefing and product demo earlier this week, does appear to be much easier to use. (For instance, even small details such as the color of a driver’s car are now included in the familiar map interface.) But the redesign also underscores how bloated the Uber app had gotten in recent years, as the company has swelled in size and has continually tacked more features and services.

The app relaunch does not appear to address the issues of safety concerns with Uber’s services, nor did the company comment on the topic of racial or gender discrimination on the driver side. On Monday, researchers from MIT, Stanford, and University of Washington released troubling findings on the reported discrimination that occurs with both the Uber and Lyft ride-sharing experiences.

The old Uber app made customers choose from a menu of ill-defined options that changed depending on which city you were in: UberX, Uber Black, Uber Select, Uber SUV, etc. The new app lumps all those options into three categories: Economy (which includes UberPool and UberX), Premium (Uber Select and town cars), Extra Seats (extra-large cars and SUVs), and More (for those who need a child’s car seat or a wheelchair-accessible vehicle). This is a welcome change from the current interface, which annoyingly defaults to UberPool much of the time.

Uber is adding arrival times to all its options too. So if you select Economy, and then UberPool, the app will predict when you’re likely to arrive at your destination — a range for Pool rides, and a more specific time for solo trips. After inputting your destination, the app tells you how much your trip will cost before you confirm the request. And surge pricing is still all but invisible, with just some fine print about “fares being higher than normal” under your fare quote.

Perhaps more notable is the change to the “Pickup Location” and “Destination” fields that exist in the current app. Now, when you open the app, you’ll be greeted by a single field that says “Where to?” Yuhki Yamashita, product manager of the app redesign, said his team “shaved off every millisecond possible to make it a faster experience.”

Thanks to its troves of rider data, Uber is now also showing shortcuts to favorite destinations, much in the way that most map apps do. To start, users can add shortcuts for Home and Work, but Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said it’s a “natural next step” for the company to expand its shortcut offerings. And in the weeks to come, you’ll be able to connect Uber with the native calendar app on your smartphone, which will show up as as destination shortcuts as it corresponds with your daily schedule.

Uber says it is using machine learning to best predict where you are going before you even open the app. It’s a seemingly small but noteworthy step in the direction of more automation within Uber’s service, as the ride-sharing company gets deeper into autonomous vehicle technology.

The new Uber app also includes a new feature called Uber feed. This is where you’ll see things like Yelp reviews for the restaurant you’re headed to, UberEats so you can order takeout on your way home, Pandora radio stations, an Uber Snapchat filter (that’s right) that shows your ETA, or a train station timetable if you’re using Uber to connect to public transit via an app called Transit. Many of these features won’t be available in the redesigned app until later this year.

Our take: the new feed is a design decision that adds more clutter just as Uber has gone to great lengths to streamline it; it is clearly part of a move to keep people more engaged with Uber as a service that offers more of an experience than just transportation. Kalanick said Uber is “not in the advertising business” when asked whether this would be a place for ads to live, but said there might be special offers for a specific destination listed in this part of the app.

And finally, Uber is introducing a location-sharing feature that lets contacts within Uber share their locations with each other, in effect turning your friend into a “location.” This means you can enter Andy or Lauren as your destination, and provided that they’ve opted to share it with you, your driver can take you directly to wherever your contact happens to be.

Uber says it has been working on the redesign since the beginning of the year. In February, the company rebranded its logo and the overall design language of the app. Then in June, Uber rolled out a slew of new features for its drivers designed to take some of the edge off of working in the gig economy. Today’s overhaul represents the conclusion in Uber’s makeover trilogy. Now bring on the self-driving cars.

Watch: Behind the wheel of Uber’s first self-driving car