Early last year, ride-hailing giant Uber, which is locked in a fierce battle with homegrown player Ola in India, realized a key challenge in its path to grow its user base in the country. This is as per a report in the Economic Times.
Several riders were having a tough time understanding how to use maps and what a location pin means on Uber’s map-centric app interface. Further, Uber’s large app size meant that users on lower end phones kept uninstalling the app whenever they ran out of memory. This was critical since about 70% of the app’s usage in emerging markets was happening on these devices.
This insight led to the San Francisco-based transportation major to pilot a new pared-down version of its rider app Uber Lite that is around 5MB in size, in order for it to address such specific challenges, starting with India in June last year.
To be sure, Ola also has a similar offering for consumers in the form of Ola Lite. Launched in December 2017, the app is just around 1 MB and built using Google’s Progressive Web App framework. It provides consumers with a stripped-down version of its flagship app in a native app-like experience.
Uber Lite, which is one of the first major flagship products to come out of the company’s Bengaluru technology centre, is however significantly different from its main application. It relies on nearby points of interests instead of a map interface, to help users select their pickup and destination points.
The app also starts providing smarter recommendations to users based on their history and frequent locations in future bookings. Although, users can also search for any preferred specific places on the app.
“The app downloads information on around 3,000-5,000 popular locations in a city when the phone is latched onto WiFi networks. So if you are in a poor network condition and you start typing, we start suggesting places using that cache on your phone. However, we have ensured the app cache doesn’t go beyond 25MB so that users don’t face memory problems” Shirish Andhare, Head of Product, Uber India has been quoted in the report.
That said, maps are available on-demand in certain scenarios like letting users know the driver’s current location after a ride booking and during the entire journey. Andhare said they render a carefully constructed lighter map whenever users tap on the maps option.
Other key changes include a pickup-first feature and surfacing more relevant booking suggestions to users in a timeline view along with more descriptive information on each of the product categories “For instance, just saying UberGo was not enough, hence we added car names like Tata Indica, Toyota Innova for each respective category” Andhare said.
Push to Tier 2 and tier 3 cities
Industry experts say Uber Lite will play a key role in expanding the ride-hailing giant’s reach in tier 2 and tier 3 cities in the country, especially at a time when the growth is slowing down in the ride-hailing industry, pushing the companies to tap into new areas.
It was reported in September 2018 that Uber was clocking 10 million trips a week in India as of April 2018, registering just a 7.6% growth from 9.4 million trips a week in July 2017.
“Uber is mostly an urban phenomenon right now, where the smartphone usage is more mature, however, if you want to expand into tier 2 and tier 3 cities, you need to have a product suitable for mass market users. Uber Lite is likely the first step in that direction, wherein you have a product that works well on cheaper phones in tier-2 and tier 3 cities” said Neil Shah, research director, devices and ecosystems at Counterpoint Research.
“More than 55% of smartphones currently sold in the Indian market are below Rs 10,000 and a majority of them either have 16GB or lesser memory configuration and also typically opt for low data plans. From that perspective, Uber Lite will likely expand Uber’s total addressable market in the country and improve its usage in the below Rs 10,000 handset segment” Shah added.
An Ola spokesperson has been quoted in the report saying that Ola Lite customers are typically on smartphones with a price range of Rs 6,000-Rs 12,000 and is popular in cities like Jaipur, Madurai, Coimbatore, and Lucknow where connectivity and transportation infrastructure challenges together persist.
Satish Meena, a senior forecast analyst at research firm Forrester said “Uber Lite will help Uber get more competitive with low ticket rides in tier 2 & tier 3 cities, since those riders will likely be first-time smartphone users and will also be facing phone memory and connectivity issues. With neck-and-neck competition in metro cities, Uber Lite may help the company capture market share in cities where Ola is already a dominant player”
Uber Lite is now available across more than 14 countries in Latin America and India with plans to shortly foray into the Middle East and Africa. It also claims to have crossed one million trips across these markets since its inception in June last year.