All hail Uber: Winner of the Internet of Things

At Quba the ‘Internet of Things’ is a regular topic of discussion. Like many of the relatively new digital trends, there has been a lot written about it. 

19 May 2015
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Jon Eaton

At Quba the ‘Internet of Things’ is a regular topic of discussion. Like many of the relatively new digital trends, there has been a lot written about it. I’ve not been overly struck by much of what I have read; lots of madcap ideas mixed in with over-enthusiasm and very few real world examples.

This is why I was so impressed by Uber, the taxi booking app that I used for the first time a few weeks ago.

[Images courtesy of Uber Blog]  


The concept is really simple. Ordering a taxi can be a bit of a painful experience especially when you are in an unfamiliar city. Take this really simple user story:

You are a business person away on business. You have gone out for a few drinks and now decide that you would like to get a taxi back to your hotel.

There are a surprising number of steps required to do this.

1. You remove your phone from pocket.

2. You either…Google: ‘Taxi companies Sheffield’ or Call a premium rate number (E.G. 118 118)

3. You get up off your seat and make the phone call.

4. Speak to someone to arrange the booking. Struggle for reference points to give directions. With booking confirmed you receive a rough idea of time until taxi arrives.

Although you probably won’t trust this as everyone says ‘it’ll be 5 minutes’.

1. Taxi arrives and you realise that you need to get some money to pay the driver.

2. This results in a detour to a cash machine extending the length of the journey and increasing your fare.

With Uber this journey is halved and much less stressful.

1. You get your phone out of your pocket

2. Book your taxi via the Uber app which uses location settings on your phone and in the driver’s car to give a really accurate estimation of time to arrival.

3. When the taxi arrives, your phone gives you a push notification alerting you to go outside and get in your taxi. Because your card or PayPal account is linked to your Uber profile you do not have to go to a cash point, or even have any cash on you at all.


How do they do this? Clever technology is the obvious answer and although I wouldn’t want to speculate on exactly what they have running in the background to calculate fares and availability what does seem clear is that they are using the following:

1. PayPal – for collecting payments.

2. Location settings on both the customer’s phone and on the taxi itself.

3. A review engine that allows customers and taxi driver to rate each other. This adds a valuable additional layer of validation to the concept by making all users of Uber accountable.

How might this apply to your business? I’m sure that Uber’s technical solution was born out of an analysis of how the user story of booking a taxi could be made less painful and more efficient. In most businesses there are areas where the customer experience is a bit muddled or downright frustrating. 

This brings me back to the Internet of Things. Today’s technology platforms across the board are broadly converging on the idea that integration is the future. This allows technology aware user experience designers (UXDs) to create fundamental business change. How? By using the data we can capture in various business systems to challenge commonly accepted barriers or processes within user journeys. The best metaphor I can give is that by getting systems to talk to one another we are in effect filling in more numbers on an advanced Suduku. We are giving ourselves more of a chance of finding the right answers by revealing different angles to explore and overcome old problems.

What can you do?

I’d suggest that rather than reading endless blogs (apart from this one obviously!) you should try to embed a customer centric culture in your business. Speak with customers and test with customers. Look for where things are painful or inefficient and keep a log of them. Then the next time that you review your digital strategy you can give them as challenges to either your software or agency partners. Or, if you can’t wait that long, feel free to give me a call on 0114 279 2750.