Lyft, locked in intense competition with its larger, better financed ride-hail rival Uber, announced Monday that Facebook Messenger users can now do what they've been able to do with Uber since December: hail a Lyft car from within the Messenger app. Lyft is also expanding its API program, in which developers can use Lyft's application program interface to embed a button in their apps to hail a Lyft car. Today's announcement is a sign that API integration is quickly becoming yet another space for these two ride-hail giants to compete with each other.
On one hand, API integration, also known as "deep linking," is a clever bit of marketing. Lyft and Uber get to place their branded service within a third-party apps' ecosystem, often for chump change, and advertise it as a better user experience. (US-based app developers can sign up to be Uber "affiliates," in which they can earn $5 for every new rider they refer to Uber through the button integration.)
A clever bit of marketing
So what does this mean for customers? Someone who wants to make a reservation with OpenTable, find directions with Google Maps, or order a coffee from Starbucks is now able to hail a car from within those respective apps, thanks to API integration. Some, like Facebook Messenger, allow users to summon a car from with the app itself, while others will send users to the respective ride-hail app to connect with a driver. The latter action is the source of some fear from app developers — Uber calls it "FOLO," or the fear of linking out — but often the desire to create a soup-to-nuts app experience wins out over concerns of sending customers away to another app.
In addition to Facebook Messenger, Lyft has integrated with Slack, Starbucks, Shell, and Google's Waze. And soon those Lyft users traveling to China, India, and Southeast Asia will be able to summon a car (or a motorcycle) from overseas ride-hail services like Didi Kuaudi, Ola, and Grab, without having to sign up for any of those specific apps. This is thanks to an anti-Uber partnership forged between the four companies late last year. "Our API makes that happen," the company says in a blog post.