“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. Anything less the critical was stripped out like a street vehicle getting turned into a racecar.
The result is Uber Lite.
It’s launching today in India before rolling out elsewhere, 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 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 according to Counterpoint Research.
To reach its full potential, Uber has to start outcompeting 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 US 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.”
Uber Lite launches not to a map or a text entry box, but instead a suggested nearby business or landmark. “You have to do less typing and can do more tapping” Deng explains. It also tries to guess your destination based on 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.
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.