Written by The Business Journal Staff
(AP) — Uber is taking its ride-hailing app down a new road in an effort to make it smarter, simpler and more fun to use.
The redesigned app also will seek to mine personal information stored on smartphones in a change that could raise privacy concerns, even though it will be up to individual users to let Uber peer into their calendars and address books.
It represents the biggest overhaul in four years to Uber’s popular app, which is used by millions of people to summon cars in more than 450 cities around the world for rides that are usually cheaper than traditional taxis.
But as Uber has grown, the app has been adding more features that have made it more difficult to navigate, prompting the San Francisco company to come up with a different approach aimed at saving passengers time and money, said CEO Travis Kalanick.
The new design and features will begin to roll out Wednesday, though it could take a couple weeks before all users get the update.
As part of the new look, Uber will more clearly spell out how much it will cost to reach a destination in different types of available cars and estimate how long it will take to get there. The app will also recommend the best places to be picked up in congested areas to make it easier for the driver and rider.
The reprogrammed app also will study a rider’s traveling history and list frequently ordered destinations as “shortcuts” so they can be chosen with a tap instead of having to type in an address.
In another time-saving move that will test how much users trust the app with their personal information, Uber plans to introduce an option by next month that will allow users to give the app access to their calendars so addresses listed in an entry can automatically appear near the time of the appointment.
Another feature coming in December also could creep out some people: It will seek access to users’ address books so they can ask for a ride to go see a friend, relative or colleague rather than entering an address.
If the address-book feature is activated, Uber’s app will contact the designated person to inquire if they are willing to share their location with the user seeking to come see them. The request will be made within the app if the person designated at the end of the ride also has Uber installed on the phone. Otherwise, the request will be sent through a text message to the mobile number listed in the address book.
Uber doesn’t see a privacy issue because users will have to agree to allow the app to scan their calendars and address books. And people whose locations are being sought through the new address-book feature will be able to decide if they want to share the information with the Uber rider seeking it.
The redesigned app also will offer other features from other services that Uber riders might enjoy during the trip to their destination. The additions include the ability to check out restaurant reviews through Yelp and listen to music on Pandora.