Many have speculated that India is the next battleground for Uber after it agreed to sell its China business last month, and the U.S. company hasn’t wasted time in increasing its focus on the country after it launched two new features that, while subtle, could help it win more customers there.
Uber today announced that users in India can now book rides for other people, while it has also introduced a mobile web booking option for ride-hailing without the need for its app. Both features are live in India only, an Uber representative clarified to TechCrunch. Uber indicated that it may look to expand them to other markets in the future.
Requesting rides for other people is actually an extension of an existing service that allows hotels and other businesses to book cars on the service for guests — “Uber Central”. It could be a useful option in India for those who want to arrange transportation for family members, significant others, or anyone who may be less tech savvy or unaware of the ride-railing service.
It works just like a regular Uber booking, except that you drop the pin for collection at the other person’s location — obviously — after which the app prompts you to share their contact details via their entry in your phone’s address book. You also select a payment type, which includes cash if your generosity doesn’t extend to covering the other person’s fare.
Once booked, the passenger receives a text message with the trip details, including a URL to track the driver who is on route to collect them.
The second new feature is Uber’s web booking platform, which is located at dial.uber.com and it is also an India-only play for now.
The process is pretty straight forward as Uber explained in a blog post:
Navigate to dial.uber.com on your mobile phone
Enter your phone number to quickly login or sign-up
View pricing information, get a fare estimate, and request for your ride with a single tap
After requesting, we will instantly connect you with your driver over call to coordinate pickup
Once the trip is completed, you can pay your driver in cash
This could be a neat alternative for first time Uber users, perhaps those with a basic smartphone, limited storage on their device (and therefore limited space for apps) or just someone who is taking a tentative first look at an Uber ride.
The fact that it is focused on UberGo, the company’s budget ride category in India, and takes cash for payment is indicative that it is focused on going beyond the core Uber audience and into the mass market.
Obviously having users download your app is the primary goal for any company since that helps keep engagement high and bookings regular, but offering an alternative is necessary to cover the bases.
Ola, the company that is leading Uber in India, has long offered a web-based booking option and a hotline for taking requests over the phone. Uber doesn’t do the latter, but it is certainly widening its options to reach as many potential customers as possible.
Uber is reported to have redeployed 150 engineers across India and Southeast Asia in a bid to rival Ola and Grab, its local enemies in those respective markets. (It created a dedicated engineering team in India earlier this year.) It has also bolstered its Indian business with a number of high profile hires. No doubt these features are just the first of many for both India and Southeast Asia as the global ride-hailing giant gets serious about winning these two emerging markets.