General Manager, West Africa at Uber, Lola Kassim, spoke with Emma Okonji on Uber’s new solutions that are designed to address riders’ internet connectivity issues, among other challenges. Excerpts:
In 2017, Uber introduced the Uber Lite solution for its business. Of what value is it to customers?
Uber Lite is a simpler version of the Uber app that works on any android phone, while saving storage space and data. It’s easy to learn and use, and it’s designed to work even in low connectivity areas to address customers’ internet connectivity issues.
What was the motivation behind Uber Lite?
In 2017, a task force made up of members from Uber’s research, design, product and engineering teams, was formed to better understand and address the pain points for riders with older Android devices in low connectivity regions. While researchers and designers set out to understand rider behaviour and come up with a simplified user interface, engineers assessed our existing rider app to see if it could be restructured and trimmed down to make it more lightweight. Deep engineering analysis revealed that simply trimming down the app would not suffice. Instead, we came up with a fresh architecture that delegated Android client communication responsibilities to a well-orchestrated, light back-end layer specifically serving network calls to our infrastructure. This new mobile back-end communication model and information architecture also served to reduce bandwidth usage without bloating the Android app size. Our work leading up to the launch involved research into the requirements of riders around the world, taking into account their available phones and wireless networks. From a strict set of requirements, our engineering team made design decisions that minimised the phone and network resources required for the app. The Uber Lite app reflects our acknowledgement that the need for transportation transcends both regions and economies.
What are some of the product design considerations of the solution?
The latest iteration of our rider app kept pace with the demands of riders who use the most recent mobile phone hardware, have access to fast data networks, or enjoy inexpensive data plans. Around the world, 40 per cent of Uber rides are booked via Android phones with hardware dating from 2014 or earlier, while 33 per cent occur over sub-3G data networks. To design a high-performance app for these conditions, we stuck to three guiding principles: light, instant, and simple.
How light is the Uber Lite on your network and data?
We have all felt the pain of trying to use our phone when we have a spotty connection. The slowest action for an app is often fetching data from the network. Low connectivity adds to this problem. So we built Uber Lite to use less network and data to work by remembering important things about your travel patterns such as your most frequent destinations. This means the app performs better in low connectivity and uses less of your data. Not only is Uber Lite resilient in low network conditions, it is fast, and has shorter load times, which means the app is snappier and more responsive.
You said the introduction of the app was based on research, what feedback did you get in order to implement this?
Most importantly, we redesigned the entire user experience to be simpler based on what users told us they needed. Based on our research, we knew we couldn’t just make a carbon copy of the existing rider app, put it on a web browser, wrap it with an app icon, call it a Lite app… and expect it to work.
Uber Lite is built to meet the needs of this new wave of users on their phones, and their diverse, unique conditions. What you’re about to see is a reimagined, simple and clutter-free app built from the ground up.
How will the app know rider’s location if there is low connectivity?
The app remembers the previous destinations of the rider and searches and so the more you ride the smarter it gets about surfacing frequently used destinations. Most importantly, when the network is slow, the app stores your previous locations so no network is needed for them to surface.
Are there any new features on the app?
Yes, Uber Lite was redesigned to be light, simple and reliable, which works smoothly on any Android device and in low connectivity areas so we needed to include new features, which would make booking rides quicker and lighter in low connectivity areas while saving space. Libraries like features and content take up a significant amount of any app’s data size, so as we built Uber Lite, we wanted to be very particular as to which libraries we would include and ad such we included new features like Guided pickups; Tap over type; and Maps on demand. With the Guided pickups, Uber lite guides users through the request experience by detecting their current location, so minimal typing is required. If it can’t detect their location because of GPS or network issues, it guides riders to choose popular landmarks nearby. Tap over type helps Uber Lite makes picking a destination as easy as a tap of a button. Instead of typing where you are, you can choose a nearby point of interest. Additionally, the app stores the city’s top places so that even when you are offline, no network is needed for them to appear. And the more you use Uber Lite, the smarter the app gets. It learns where you go most often, and surfaces those options first. This feature is particularly convenient for people with phones with smaller screens.The Maps on demand feature helps to keep the app light and fast, and ensures that maps in Uber Lite are not loaded by default, but are available with a tap when you need them.
What languages is the app available in to start before you roll out self selection?
The language that appears in the app is English language.
What does Uber Lite support in terms of phones?
The app supports any Android phones.
What type of payment methods can be used with Uber Lite?
Payment options will be the same as the general Uber app, riders can pay with cash or card.
What are the benefits to the riders?
There are multiple benefits of downloading any Lite version of an app, like Uber Lite. It requires less space to store on a device and also launches processes much quicker. Meaning that you will be able to connect to the internet faster. And, with a 300-millisecond response time the booking process is faster in low connectivity.
Why is the app only available on Android?
The standard Uber app runs well on all IOS devices due to its operating system. We believe broad access to Uber creates greater opportunity for everyone and a one-size-fits-all app doesn’t work for the diversity of devices, and rider needs across Nigeria. Which is why we are introducing Uber Lite, a new app, which works better on Android devices that have limited storage space.