App concerns

Uber puts mates on the map, with friend’s name as destination

 You’ll soon be able to specify a person as well as a destination under changes to Uber’s service in Australia.

It’s one of a series of smart, under the hood additions Uber is making to its apps, the company said in a briefing to The Australian. Uber says giving a friend’s name as the ride destination first involves syncing your contacts with the Uber app.

The friend receives an automatic request from the Uber app to share their location, which is set as the physical destination. Your friend in turn gets updates on your ETA. It’s coming to ­Australia in a couple of months, Uber says.

Late last year, Uber added “driver destinations”, which lets commuters become part-time Uber drivers on their way to and from work. The driver app uses an algorithm to match the driver’s work or home destination with passenger ride requests.

This week, Uber is stepping up its mapping of Australia’s roads, collecting information that will help drivers find passenger pick-up locations and destinations. The cars of drivers who take part are fitted with cameras that capture street names, business signs and other identifying images.

Buildings in shopping precincts often lack street numbers. Sometimes GPS locations of buildings aren’t accurate. Capturing the images addresses that.

Uber says the information will be used to give drivers a pre-calculated approach route to destinations that are in one-way streets or hard-to-get-to locations. The national mapping program began on the Gold Coast last month and will begin in Brisbane this week.

The rider app, too, is undergoing changes, with calendar integration available in Australia from this week. Again, you need to synch your calendar with the Uber app. It will then identify meeting times and destinations. If you open the Uber app, there will be a selectable entry with the address of the meeting place preloaded. It’s one press of the button, says Uber.

“Digging to find an address, then copying and pasting it into the Uber app doesn’t get you there any faster … we’ll save you the hassle,” Uber said in a blogpost. It doesn’t work for the return trip to the office; you need to load your work address ­request manually.

In Australia, Uber wants to offer connecting transport ­options within its rider app, such as the next train out, should your destination be a railway station, and other destination-related information such as local restaurant reviews.

Recently Uber launched a new version of its drivers’ app for iOS. Using data analytics, it will suggest where drivers locate themselves at particular times of day to maximise earning opportunities. The app can offer drivers the location of toilets, traffic delay information and driver revenue tracking. Drivers can see their current take-home amount at any time.

There’s ad-free access to Pandora’s music streaming service for driver and passenger use. Uber says turn-by-turn navigation within the driver app is improving.

Many Uber drivers are enthusiastic users of other mapping services such as community-based mapping and traffic navigation service Waze, now owned by Google.

For passengers with time on their hands, there is now integration with Snapchat that lets them take photos during the ride and publish them to Snapchat with custom Uber filters unlockable from the Uber app during your journey.

At venues such as Sydney airport, instead of using a physical taxi rank, Uber has an algorithm that attempts to match the supply of Uber cars with passenger demand so there is neither a build-up of waiting cars nor long queues of passengers. There’s no indication yet of Uber bringing its passenger pooling service UberPool to Australia.

The updates come as Uber last week had to fend off a ‘#DeleteUber’ social media campaign from activists, which saw CEO Travis Kalnick step down from US President Donald Trump’s economic advisory council.

In Australia Uber currently operates in Brisbane, Toowoomba, Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast (Qld), Sydney, Newcastle and the central NSW coast (NSW), Melbourne and Geelong (Vic), Adelaide (SA), Perth (WA), Hobart (Tas) and Canberra (ACT).


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