Personalized User Experience: A Look at Transportation Apps

Move Forward
May 28 · 4 min read

Written by Shannon Hauff

This article was originally published on November 22, 2016

In October 2015, Localytics asked smartphone users what they wanted from their mobile apps in the future. First, they demanded more functionality so that multiple apps could be consolidated into one. Tied for second was seamless connection to online and offline experiences and personalized content based on preferences, needs, and location. Third was for mobile apps to go a step further and actually anticipate those preferences, needs, and locations. That brings us to today.

Users have come to expect a deeply personalized experience from their apps, and it is a necessity in today’s market to develop and design apps with this in mind from the start. To really be competitive, mobile apps must anticipate users’ needs, keep them engaged, adapt based on massive amounts of user data, and most importantly, offer personalization that’s smart, seamless, and accurate. Transportation apps, in particular, are leveraging tailored content and recommendations to reimagine the traveler’s entire journey, from planning to transport, and even the entertainment in between.

This concept of anticipatory design is one that the average consumer has seen for years, with services like Pandora, Netflix, and Amazon. The next TV show you’re going to binge watch or pair of headphones you’re going to buy are predicted and served up right in front of you. But when applied to transportation apps, we’re moving beyond streamlining consumption and toward streamlining mobility, starting with individual travelers. When designing the user experience for these individuals, app makers have to keep in mind issues like alert-fatigue, decision-fatigue, and overstimulation. It’s easy to get excited and add in tons of features and options — you want your app to do everything, of course! But people are creatures of habit, and users only want to focus on an extremely small percentage of an app’s capabilities — the ones they use consistently. The more simple, intuitive, and predictive the interface is, the easier it is for someone to remain engaged without getting frustrated.

As exemplified most recently in Uber’s large-scale update and launch of “Uber Feed,” personalized differentiation is vital in the increasingly competitive landscape of mobile transportation solutions. The Uber app will now provide shortcut suggestions about your most likely destinations, based on your everyday routine and calendar entries. Then, once you’re enroute, the app will push content relevant to your destination, like Yelp reviews if you’re headed to a restaurant, or food delivery via UberEats, if you’re headed home from work. With this update, we’re seeing Uber embrace the demand for a hyper-personalized and smart user experience, and step into the realm of anticipating user needs. The company “want[s] to know what you want before you want it,” says CEO Travis Kalanick.

As transportation apps roll out more updates in the coming years, we’ll likely see a number of trends, including a move away from the isolated transit experience. Currently, the majority of our traveling or commuting experiences are siloed — we’re moving through our day alone, only asking mobile apps for directions, bus times, or the nearest ride to hail. But if apps allowed for user input on a larger scale, there’s opportunity for the UX to become personalized even more acutely, while at the same time shifting toward a more united, community-based mobility. Waze is already leveraging real-time user data to create community navigation — real people working together to update maps and mark police, car accidents, and traffic jams. What is essentially crowdsourcing — tapping into a huge pool of users — actually allows an app to deliver a more valuable experience to each individual within that crowd.

So what if we took that community involvement a step further? By tying a user’s transit or commuter experience to their community beyond transportation, an app could create a more holistically improved experience. If you add local businesses into the equation, this could be a possible scenario: your transit app recognizes that your bus is late and that it’s raining (fantastic start to the morning). You receive a notification from the app along the lines of, “Sorry that you’re stuck in the rain waiting for the bus! Here’s a coupon for a free drink from the coffee shop around the corner. You can also buy an umbrella at the gas station next door.” For this to work, collaboration is key. The coffee shop, gas station, and local transit agency would all need to buy into the experience. But as more community entities integrate, both public and private, an app can become more helpful and personal to the user.

Looking back on the top demands of 2015 smartphone users — two-thirds of which involved personalization — makes looking forward to 2017 even that much more exciting. This year brought huge developments in understanding user needs, and leveraging data to deliver above and beyond those needs. Paving the way were updates as simple as Google Maps predicting our destination the moment we got into the car. App-learning technology will continue to get smarter, and the possibilities of anticipatory design will only grow. So why not involve the local coffee shop in a transit app? There are endless features and scenarios that we could explore, but the challenge is to understand what we should pursue. Which ideas will actually add value? App makers have to know what would benefit their users, before the user ever thinks to want or need it.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

Move Forward Blog

Working with cities to create a world without traffic jams.

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Discussing the future of urban mobility and smart cities.

Move Forward Blog

Working with cities to create a world without traffic jams.

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