It was always a bit weird to wait for your Uber driver and then suddenly receive a text from an unknown number. “Where are you?” Often the driver would skip the anonymous text altogether and just honk their horn until you got the hint. (Literally while I’m writing this, a black car driver is leaning on their horn outside my apartment.) Like all tech companies desperately trying to smooth out modern life’s rough edges, Uber has a new solution: in-app messaging.
To send a message to your driver, riders can select “contact” then “chat” in the feed section of the Uber app. There, they can shoot a quick text to their driver about their exact location, or whatever else helps facilitate a smooth pickup.
And before you can say, “Isn’t texting while driving dangerous,” Uber has a solution there, too. The messages are read aloud to the driver, who can respond with just a quick “thumbs-up” emoji with one tap. Both riders and drivers will see if their chats are delivered and read, to confirm the other actually received the communication.
According to Uber, the new in-app messaging system will preclude riders and drivers from having to share their phone number with one another when they need to get in touch. Uber already uses an anonymizing technology to mask your phone number (and your driver’s) when you call or text outside the app, so it shows up as a random number. But while that technology is used in the US, it isn’t available in some emerging markets, which is what inspired Uber to build this new chat system, a spokesperson said.
Historically, Uber has been a utilitarian app, aiming to provide the shortest, most efficient distance between point A and point B. But Uber wants you to spend more time in its app and use it for things not directly associated with transportation. This includes Snapchat filters, calendar integrations, and using friends as destination locations. The company clearly desires to turn its core product into something more than just a way to summon a car. It also wants to be a middleman for food delivery, social media sharing, IRL meet-ups, and much more.
It’s also compliment with Uber’s effort to perfect the art of the pickup. A few months ago, Uber updated its app to allow riders to slightly alter their pickup location mid-request. If you accidentally say you’re in the wrong place, the app will let you essentially edit your pickup location even when the driver is already on their way.