We Rate and Explain the New Uber Driver App

Earlier this week, Uber livestreamed a presentation worldwide to drivers, announcing big changes to the Uber driver app.  Ridester has taken a look and we will give you the lowdown on the new app, and explain how it’s changing and how it rates with drivers.

First though, a few comments about the livestream presentation.  The big news is that Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi made an appearance!  And while he didn’t address a single major concern of drivers, we have to commend him for even bothering to show up.  That in itself is a major improvement over Uber’s former CEO, Travis Kalanick, who couldn’t give drivers the time of day, much less showing up for a presentation to them.

With that said, there were several interesting things that were said during the presentation.  Dara continued his apology tour with some conciliatory remarks to driver.  He said:

“You’re the heart of the Uber experience, but somewhere along the line, as we grew as a company, we lost sight of that.  We focused too much on growth and not enough on the people who were driving that growth.  We called you partners but we didn’t really treat you as partners.  We made mistakes and our biggest mistake was not making your experience a priority because your experience is what defines the rider experience, defines how they feel about our product.  And you are our partners and you’ve been with us all along the way and somehow we lost sight of that.”

On the one hand, that’s nice to hear coming from the CEO.  We never heard anything like that from the former CEO.  So, perhaps it bodes well and will lead to more beneficial changes in the future.  But, as for the present, not much has changed.  We know he did listen to drivers and he heard some of their complaints.  I’m sure he heard many drivers tell him they didn’t feel like “partners”.  But telling us you’re sorry for the past doesn’t really help if it doesn’t lead to substantive change.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Niz5uyv9aWU&t=1421s

Drivers don’t care much for nice words.  They want to see action.  And until they see some real action, no amount of kind or conciliatory words are going to mean anything to them at all.

Unfortunately, after watching this entire presentation, drivers found that there wasn’t a single change that will affect their bottom line.

The primary focus of the presentation was on the major revamp of the driver app.  Yukhi Yamashita, Uber Group Product Manager, introduced and described the new features, which centered around a cleaned up map, but he got a very tepid response from the drivers who made up the audience.  And an even more disappointed response in online driver forums and groups later in the day.

The first big change that Yukhi touted was that the new Uber driver app will now show “Boost” areas in a clearer, cleaner way and it will give navigation to those areas.

Apparently, Uber thinks this is such a great new feature that Yukhi stopped speaking after he announced it.  There was a long pause (a full 5 seconds to be exact) as he waited for some applause. It became apparent he wasn’t going to continue until someone applauded, so finally, what sounded like a forced applause by two or three members of the audience ensued.  It was about the most unenthusiastic applause you could imagine.  To say the least, the drivers in the audience seemed uniformly unimpressed.

Here’s an example of the new cleaner map:

The map on the left is from the old app.  The map on the right is the new map.  You can tap on the blue dots to get more information about each of those areas.

The next big change is how they’ll display boost and bonus areas.  I honestly don’t see any difference other than the color.  The old app displayed boost areas in red and the new app displays them in blue.

But, Yukhi said, “Now when you’re in a slow area, we proactively let you know if we think there’s a better place for you to be.”  It’s hard to guess what he meant by that because by his words you’d expect the map to show where you’re most likely to get your next ping from.  But, the graphics on the screen only showed a map with a boost area – in blue.

This announcement was met by total silence from the driver audience.  I think they weren’t even sure why it was being presented to them as an improvement.

Yukhi introduced the next feature of the new Uber driver app by telling the audience that it would put earnings front and center so drivers could constantly see how much they’re making.

He said drivers had told them that earnings were the most important thing to them – and that inspired them to put driver earnings at the top of the new driver app.  I think though, they may have misunderstood what drivers meant when they told them earnings were the most important thing.  Drivers didn’t mean that seeing earnings front and center on the app screen was the most important thing.  They meant that earning more money was the most important thing!

But, however Uber may have understood it, this is what they ended up giving us:

The next change, shown below, has to with how the map will display information when you get a ping.  The map on the right shows the big improvement Uber has made (that drivers in the room seemed oddly underwhelmed with).  Instead of just showing the time it will take to get there – they’ve added the distance!  Yea Uber!!

But on the new Uber driver app, when you get a ping, instead of just telling you how long it will take you to get to them, it will also show you your distance to them.  That could actually be helpful.  The time was always a little suspect.  You never knew for sure how it was calculated or how accurate it was.  So having the distance could be helpful.  In fact, most drivers know their cities so well that if you show them the distance only, they’ll innately know how long it will take to get there.  So, I’d rate this as a good but minor tweak.

Next up – is messaging.  Now, when a rider messages you, you can respond with just a tap.  Yea Again!  Although this is just one more thing that’s going to force you to reach down with your finger and tap the screen – either to respond or to clear the message so you can continue viewing the map.  With the current app, when I get a text from a passenger, they just have to wait until I get to a safe place to stop where I can respond.  But now, we’ll all have to actually look at and touch the screen while we’re driving.  Just another thing to take our eyes off the road.

Next is what could actually be called a helpful improvement.  If you lose internet connectivity and your connection with Uber’s servers when beginning a trip, you’ll be able to start the trip anyway.  This one got a very mild applause… sounded like about six drivers clapped!  But this loss of connection to Uber’s servers has always been a big problem.  And it always seems to happen at the worst possible times… like when you’re just starting a trip.  So we’ll give this one two thumbs up.

This next feature, you’re really going to be thankful for.  It solves a huge problem drivers had with the old app.  In the new app, you’ll be able to see all your passenger compliments on the same page as your ratings!!  Yahoo!!  I’m so thankful they finally got around to this change.  Drivers have clamored for it for years.  It’s good to see that Uber finally heard us!

However, you’ll have to scroll down to see your compliments, so you won’t really be able to see your ratings and compliments at the same time!  Sorry about that.

Another improvement that drivers have begged for, for at least the last couple of years is they are adding pictures to the Help page.  Finally!  Look at the old screen (on the left).  It was terrible.  No pictures, no formatted text.  Now we’re going to have both pictures and formatted text!!

 

Another exciting announcement is that the new Uber driver app will display surges in a different way.  Yukhi says his favorite part is that it will no longer display surges in the ocean.  This is indeed a wonderful improvement!

Seriously though… the big news here is that the surge colors will be underneath the roads so you can more easily see the street names.  It is true that on the old app, surges totally covered up the roads.  But, for most drivers who know their cities, it didn’t really matter.  They knew what part of town it was in and they knew how to get to it.  You don’t usually need to know the exact block a surge as on as they usually cover several blocks.  It’s an improvement no doubt, but not one that will make much difference.

Major Issues Not Addressed

While it is great to see Uber make those minor tweaks to the new driver app, several major issues weren’t mentioned at all.

  • Earnings – nothing was said that would indicate the new app would help drivers improve earnings. In fact, the word “earnings” wasn’t even mentioned a single time during the entire presentation;
  • uberPOOL – none of the numerous issues surrounding uberPOOL were mentioned at all. In fact, the word “uberPOOL’ wasn’t spoken a single time.  That struck some drivers as a little odd since the way uberPOOL trips work in the app is a gigantic headache for them.
  • Riders Seeing Driver Ratings Before They Rate Drivers – another app related issue that wasn’t mentioned was the fact that passengers can see how their driver rated them – before they rate their driver. So if the driver got a drunk, rude passenger and gave them one star, the passenger is able to see this before they rate the driver.  So, of course a low rating from a driver will result in a low rating from the passenger.  This does nothing to help ratings integrity and it does nothing to further the safety of drivers.  If drivers can’t honestly rate a bad passenger, then future drivers may be put at risk by those passengers.
  • Rider Destination Still Not Displayed Before Driver Accepts Trip – One of the biggest and most helpful changes Uber could have made to the app would be to display the rider’s destination. Or give an estimate on the earnings or length of the trip.  They obviously don’t have to show drivers the exact destination, but they could at least show the general area the passenger is going to.  They obviously can’t do this now though – with rates being so low – because most drivers would reject all of the $3 and $4 trips – which is a large portion of trips.  But if we’re true independent contractors, we should be able to get an estimate on how much a trip will pay and what area it will take us to before we decide whether or not to accept it.