Moving with Uber

Richard Burton
Aug 24, 2015 · 6 min read

Update: I did not accept the job offer at Uber. I felt like something was off. Susan Fowler’s blog post confirmed that the company is not a good place to do your best work. I hope Voyage and Tesla win this fight.

Here are some ways I’d like Uber to help me move around. I’ve asked dozens of drivers and friends about their experiences with Uber and turned these ideas over in my mind for a few days. I spent a few hours turning the thoughts into pixels. Here’s a little clip of me working at 60x:

See what I see

When there’s an issue on the roads or the GPS accuracy is off, calling a driver is fine but I sometimes find it tricky to transfer my location verbally. The process of taking in my 3D surroundings and coming up with descriptions that will help a driver figure out where I am on a 2D map involves a lot of work. If I could show them where I am with a quick video feed, it could speed up that process up enormously.

We could stream the video with Pied Piper’s Middle-Out Compression Solution.

Pickup time

When I get home from my morning run, I’d love to schedule a ride in 20 minutes’ time. That way I could jump in the shower, get changed, and step into a car without having to wait. Although on-demand transport is the main goal, driver-rider liquidity is not always balanced. For example, when I want to get a ride home from Ocean Beach, San Francisco, I get off the water and it always takes 10–15 minutes before I can get a ride. Being able to schedule that ahead of time would be great in those circumstances.

Tapping the clock icon would reveal some options around timing.

Arriving on time

I hate being late for other people when they are making time to see me. Every time I use Uber to get to a meeting I have a lot of anxiety about picking the right time to depart. I will often over-compensate and arrive 15–20 minutes early. If Uber could move me to the right place at just the right time, that would be incredible.

Calendar data

My calendar knows where I’m going and when. If Uber knew that too it’d make it even quicker for me to get a ride.

Moving through your calendar

Whenever I add important things to my calendar, I’ll research a few transport options ahead of time and add those before the event. This isn’t a huge pain but it’s very rigid. If my plans or my location deviates from the pre-defined structure I’ve set in place, my travel entries aren’t helpful any more. What I really want is a flexible calendar that takes into account entries that require my physical presence and those that don’t. An extra bonus would be an awareness of when I’ll require an internet connection for things like Skype calls. The calendar would then ingest all this information, connect the dots, and give me suggestions on how best to move through my day.

Some early concepts of how calendars could connect up the dots & help you move.

The planning and moving process requires lots of app-hopping and double-checking to make sure a schedule works. This is why busy people often have an assistant who they depend on to put all of the pieces of this puzzle together. Great assistants can help their employers avoid clashes in the diary, carve out time for productive work, and make sure all of the information they need is at each stage of the day is ready for them.

Services like Google Now, Clara & Charlie are all heading in the right direction, automating different sections of the personal assistant’s role, but I’ve not seen a calendar that really helps in the way I want. My current calendar-of-choice is Fantastical from Flexibits. Below I’ve mocked up a little booking button integration that could be really helpful.

Left: A normal calendar. Middle: An idea for an integration into Fantastical. Right: What my calendar looks like with a lot of manual work.

I had quick Twitter conversation with Michael Simmons, the cofounder of Flexibits about the challenges around these kinds of integrations:

Although software like this isn’t easy to build, it feels like it’s not far away. I’m excited for the day when my Watch nudges me about where to go and plugins into Uber’s transport network to help me move around.

Cut & Paste

If you open Pocket and have a link in your clipboard, it gives you the option save it immediately. It’s a really nice touch that makes it much quicker to do what you want. If I have an address in my clipboard, I’d like Uber to recognise that and help me get there.

Would you mind dropping me off?

Often when I’m riding with friends, we’re moving in a similar direction but not to the same destination. Specifying drop-offs and picking the best route would be really helpful.

Picking up others

Sometimes I want to pick up people along the way. This would be like creating my own little UberPOOL ride. Using that same routing infrastructure I want to make it easier to travel with friends to a place we all want to go.

Here’s an idea for how pickups could be initiated. You can play with the prototype at:

There are a few things I’d want to explore in more detail:

  • How many people can the car can hold?
  • What’s the maximum number of pick-ups and drop-offs that someone can have on one ride?
  • What’s the optimal route based on the pick-ups or drop-offs. How can Uber suggest a better ones if the order of locations is sub-optimal?

Non-blocking reviews

When I tap on Uber, these three things are almost true:

  1. I want to book a ride straight away.
  2. I haven’t reviewed my last ride yet.
  3. The last ride went great.

If there had been a serious problem with the last ride I would have left a bad review straight after the ride. Therefore, the full-screen review prompt is always a tiny little niggle every time I open the app. I’d like to tuck the feature up so I can start a new ride request and then review the last ride whilst I’m waiting. That would probably lead to better driver feedback because people know their new Uber is on the way and not rush to hit 5 stars as quickly as possible.

I’m sure all of these ideas have been prototyped by the team at Uber long before they popped into my head. There are all kinds of considerations when you’re operating at Uber scale. Many of these ideas aren’t just interface tweaks, they’re enormous engineering and infrastructure challenges that would require a huge amount of work. I just wanted to share the ways I’d love to see Uber improve in the future.

Here’s a link to my original Sketch file:

NB: While I did my best to adhere to the brand guidelines, I wasn’t able to get hold of all the weights of Clan Pro so some of the mockups aren’t quite right.

Richard Burton

Written by

Working on Love kiting. Writing helps me think.

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