I'm A Product Guy.

Good, bad, great, all products can be better.

If you’re like me, you slightly obsess over every product you come across and are either impressed and inspired by an amazing experience or deeply disappointed by a total miss.  I can’t keep this ecstasy or misery to myself so there’s usually some rant which follows.

How can UBER be More Uber?

Uber’s ridesharing app is awesome, ingenious, and disrupting the $10 billion taxi industry; but if some issues are not soon addressed, Uber could soon be stuck in the slow lane.

Some Remote Location in New Mexico

Some Remote Location in New Mexico

Let’s pump the brakes; full disclosure, I’ve been a happy Uber customer for years and am psyched to see them (Lyft and others) expanding to new cities every month.   Once I got past the initial awkwardness of getting into a stranger’s car - ignoring years of maternal warning - it’s been great!  

Last week was my annual trip with my father and his hiking crew; and if not for my nimble Uber driver I would have missed the 7am flight from SFO>ELP (El Paso, TX) .

The star rating system for both driver and passenger keeps everyone on their best behavior; pre-ride sneak peek of driver’s photo, name, and car;  predictability of arrival and real time map tracking of progress; and my personal favorite: no cash or card needed for the transaction - all good.   


I’ve been pleased with the pace with which Uber (and Lyft my other personal favorite) continue adding features:

  • carpooling;
  • saved destinations;
  • in-app updates replacing texts;
  • pay with points;
  • ride splitting;
  • multiple credit cards (for both business and joy rides).   

So what’s the problem? As with most, high-flying, disruptive technologies there’s been backlash and some hyperactive critics.


The most frequent complaint I’ve heard in and around SF is Uber drivers don’t always know the best route.  Actually let’s focus on helping the directionally challenged Uber drivers and get to the other issues in subsequent blogs; but I also want to hear from you in the comments, what’s your gripe with Uber?

Drivers not knowing their way:

I’m sure I’m not the first to have jumped into an Uber and the driver asks me for directions - what the?  And I’m usually going from Pacific Heights to the Financial District - not exactly the Northwest Passage.  Let’s focus on how to ensure your Uber driver never says those five words: “how do I get there?” which is just awkward.  

How can Uber train thousands of drivers without having to staff up a testing organization?  They're a self proclaimed technology company, afterall, so it makes sense to fix this with tech.  Cabbies take tests to receive their licenses; Uber should do the same, but have fun with it and create a simple check-in game for their drivers.  

Back in 2009, way before we all suffered from check-in fatigue, a friend and I developed a check-in game app for exploring cities, a bit like The Amazing Race but played by using check-ins to verify presence, needed to complete each stage through a city map.  This is essentially what I’m suggesting for Uber: Automated driver testing with a check-in game to simulate pick-up and drop-off of passengers.  Once the driver achieves enough points, they’re ready for real passengers, and hopefully never having to say those five awkward words.    

The Driver Test App:

Cabbies take tests to receive their licenses; Uber should do the same, but have fun with it and create a simple check-in game for their drivers.

Better Driver Maps:

Improving driver street knowledge is not enough; there’s also an opportunity for tighter integration with top tier map apps - a.k.a - Google Maps and Waze, both offered by Google.  In a perfect world, the driver won’t actually need to use their navigation acumen, the app should always find the best route based on time, traffic, road closures, etc.   Come on Uber, you're a Google Ventures company, after all.  Word on the street is the Uber Driver map navigation uses Apple Maps, really?  Didn't Apple CEO Tim Cook already recommend using Google Maps? If this rumor is true, it explains some of the reason for the less than oriented Uber drivers.

Rumors and map tech aside, the usability flow could be improved. There's no reason why the entire interaction should have any conversation about directions or routes, just the destination.  In fact, it makes sense for this to be a design goal for Uber.  

This is not rocket surgery, and the use case flow should reflect this simplicity:

  1. Passenger requests ride, specifies destination in Uber Passenger App
  2. Driver accepts ride
  3. Driver picks up the Passenger
  4. Uber Driver App launches the Driver’s Map, displaying route and directions
  5. Driver selects the route and goes

If the destination isn’t known when the passenger is in the car, the Driver Uber App should ping the Passenger Uber App to ask the passenger for it.  I enjoy chatting with Uber drivers, but there’s no reason to discuss something as boring as how to arrive at the destination - yawn.   


The in app navigation is a great start, but tighter map integration is low hanging fruit, an easy win.  Also, when I’m starting from “Home” don’t offer “Home” as my destination!  For the extreme off chance I want to take an Uber joy ride around the block, I’m fine with entering in my address.  In the future this interaction between Passenger App and Driver App could include additional features like offering routes for the passenger to select on a map.

As for the Driver Test App, Uber should run with this idea and add cool gamification to create competition amongst their drivers and continue with ongoing game tests and automated route checking with feedback and/or rewards to sharpen their drivers’ skills and create learning opportunities for them.  

Eventually, Uber may consider this a feature like the car type (UberX, BLACK CAR, TAXI) and offer passengers the options to pay more for a “master driver” that, let’s say, I may use when I have a flight to catch and need the fastest way to SFO.  I mean, I appreciate a 5-star rated driver due to their friendly disposition, but when my flight is wheels up in 55 minutes, the “master driver” would be golden.  


Uber is at tipping point - ha! that phrase is so overdone, but they are at a point where they must improve their core competencies to form deeper relationships with customers and stay ahead of the cabbies.   One core fundamental they can’t overlook is the street knowledge of their drivers and delivering us to our destinations in the fastest way possible.  If they crush these, the only cab we’ll order will arrive in a glass.