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Uber drivers no longer need other mapping apps

Android users get in-app, turn-by-turn directions for the first time.
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Few of us think about the driver experience when we hail an Uber. We open the app, summon a car and then clamber into the backseat, peering at our phones or talking to friends until we arrive at our destination. But for a trip to work seamlessly, it's important that your chauffeur knows exactly where you are and where you're going. With this in mind, the company has set out on a major revamp of its driver app, improving navigation on iOS and, for the first time, offering turn-by-turn directions in Android.

Yes, you read that correctly. Until now, drivers have had to juggle multiple apps if they use an Android phone. It's a clunky experience, bouncing between Uber and their preferred mapping service, like Google Maps, whenever someone new requests a ride. The experience on iOS isn't much better, with "fundamental navigation features" missing from the app. For the last "several months," the team has been working on something better. At a cursory glance, it looks like any other mapping app, with a colorful line to indicate the best route and a large arrow up top to explain the next turn.

But Uber says there's more going on. After all, its drivers work differently to the common road user. They're picking people up along the way, and need to know what side of the road they'll be stood on. For UberPool, that involves multiple stops on an oftentimes convoluted route. In the case of UberEats, they need to know the best places to park near your chosen restaurant and home. To help, Uber built a "route preview" system that focuses on the most important parts of each trip. During a pickup, for instance, it zooms in and shows where the passenger should be stood, as well as the next turn, or at least the direction they should be headed off in.

There's also lane guidance, real-time traffic updates and a dark theme for night-time shifts. These features are basic, however Uber has stressed this is only the first version. Over time, the team hopes to refine it further, reacting to driver behavior and the complexities of different cities. The key difference now is that the software is in Uber's hands -- it's no longer relying on Google or Apple to patch in their most requested features.

The redesigned apps use a blend of in-house and third-party provided data. Uber has its own fleet of street-mapping cars, but these are meant predominantly to help its self-driving vehicles. The biggest supplier is TomTom, which first partnered with Uber in November 2015. Uber's in-app navigation won't be the only option -- drivers can still use Google Maps or Waze if they wish -- but, unsurprisingly, the company recommends switching. Uber says a small number of iOS users should already have the new experience. It will be rolled out slowly, alongside the new Android version, "over the next several months," an Uber spokesperson said.

The new driver app follows a tumultuous few months for Uber. In February, CEO Travis Kalanick was caught on camera arguing with a driver over fare prices (he later apologised, and is now looking for a COO to keep his aggressive leadership style in check). A month earlier, swathes of users deleted the app (the movement was shared with the #deleteuber hashtag) after it turned off surge pricing at JFK Airport, undermining a taxi strike designed to exert pressure on Donald Trump's travel ban. The company is also under fire for reports of sexual harassment, and is fending off a lawsuit filed by Alphabet's Waymo team. Through it all, however, Uber trudges on.

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