Uber’s diet app is designed for emerging countries

Uber’s diet app is designed for emerging countries

Last June, Uber launched its ‘diet’ app –Uber Lite – in India, with a view to support users with older phones, and those who frequently face connectivity issues. The app is now available in more than 14 countries, in English, Portuguese, and Spanish. The company claims it has 2.5 million downloads, and its users have completed more than 1.6 million rides in the past seven months.

o how do you build a usable app for emerging markets and solve problems for the next billion users? We chatted with the development team behind Uber Lite to understand what went into the conceptualization of the app, as well as some of the engineering that helped shape it into a product ready for prime-time.

Research: What’s wrong with our primary app?

In 2016, Uber’s Global Access Team – which works in Bangalore, India – began researching customers’ needs and expectations in emerging markets like India, Brazil, and Mexico, to improve the ride-hailing app’s experience for the next billion riders. It found three main hurdles that prevented potential users from getting on board Uber’s platform: their phones’ hardware limitations, poor network connectivity, and the app’s complex visual interface.

“We found that more than 80-85% of our users are on Android platform. We looked at our Android audience in emerging markets and found that the majority of our audience relied on devices which were from 2014 or older, as per the year-class scale for mobile phones. While these people were booking rides, we felt we could do a lot more to improve their experience,” Shirish Andhare, Head of Product and Growth, Uber India told TNW. The Year-class scale was defined by Facebook to compare the hardware specs of a phone with a certain year’s high-end phone.

He added that these Android devices had limited storage capacity and processing power. Many users with such devices deleted the Uber app – which took up several megabytes of storage space – so as make room for photos and videos they received from contacts via WhatsApp.

Some surveyed users told the team they found Uber’s app interface too complex to navigate, and that they’d often ask friends and family to help book them a ride. The team realized it had to redesign the ride-booking flow; I’ll get to that in just a bit.

The third aspect was to make the app work in areas with poor network conditions. During its research, the company found that more than 35 percent of its riders in emerging markets used the app in areas with low connectivity (Sub-3G conditions). As a result, they often couldn’t book a ride successfully.

A law student in Brazil, who uses Uber regularly to commute back to home at night, told the company, “When I get poor network service on my phone, and if the app doesn’t respond in time, I immediately feel unsafe.”

Re-engineering the app

After getting feedback from users in emerging markets, the Uber team went back to the drawing board and came up with the mantra of “Light, Instant, and Simple” for its Lite app.

Andhare said that the team decided to build a native app instead of a Progressive Web App (PWA) to address a larger audience:

Uber already has a PWA, however, the full construct and advantages of a PWA model as such, are still evolving and not universally supported on all browsers. Our typical Android device audience and the versions of Android OS we are targeting in our emerging markets do not support some of the PWA constructs.

The Global Access Team redesigned the app and removed many unnecessary features for users of the emerging market, like some digital payment methods and graphics heavy elements (e.g. car figurines). After several iterations, it managed to bring the app’s download size to just 4.5MB – almost 85 percent smaller than the original Uber app.

Credit: Uber Lite