This week Uber clarified its consumer facing offerings by adding a switch to its app, to enable users to pick between its core (?) transportation offerings and its food delivery service (Uber Eats). At the same time it is continuing to experiment with its broader Uber Rush service (offering, for example ecommerce return services in some markets). The Rush service at the moment appears still to be part of the transportation offering.
When Facebook split Messaging from its core mobile app Mark Zuckerberg was clear that, despite the friction of multiple apps, “On mobile, each app can only focus on doing one thing well…” Facebook themselves has a mixed record here (Facebook Camera anyone?), and others have struggled- Foursquare, perhaps the first best mobile-only app, seemed to stall as it split itself into two distinct apps, to serve different use cases.
When mobile apps first emerged app owners and developers were told to focus on the essential- what is the one thing users want to see on their device. Things have changed- where sites once saw 5% of traffic on mobile, now most see 50+%. What users see on mobile is what you offer (again using FB numbers, 71% of daily users are mobile only). Even further- now many services are now genuinely mobile-only (think about the last time you went to uber.com on your laptop (don’t bother)). For those services there is no PC web site that has lots of stuff, and a chance to focus down on the mobile. The mobile is all there is.
As an aside- the context of wearables it is notable also that the idea of the watch as a companion sounds similar to that of the web to mobile app a few years ago- “The best apps support fast, frequent interactions and focus on the content that people care about the most.” sounds like similar advice again.
For Uber the motivation seems clear. They have a phenomenal asset in the driver fleet, and operational capabilities managing that. Delivery and other logistics services appear logical ways to gain economies of scope- getting more from that same asset.
But from a consumer point of view how long can Uber deliver its well-received user experience across multiple apps? And if it has multiple apps what links them from a user point of view- why pick that “other Uber app” Getting users into habits is key. It’s not clear that the habit of ordering food / instant groceries is ingrained (yet), and it is certainly far more competitive, with competent disruptors, than the taxi space was. So Uber has an asset with a huge moat, but perhaps not as much of an obvious linkage to other apps as, say, Facebook Messaging.
Perhaps one alternative approach Uber might end up with would be more b2b- offering its services to merchants as a last mile delivery service for any and all goods. Powering the “get it right right now” button on many local sites might be more effective than trying to launch more and more slightly related commerce services. At the end of the day instant delivery is a feature of something else (i.e. unlike taxi services, where transportation is the entire delivered experience). This might take some time- there are still relatively few retail segments outside food where true instant delivery is very valuable vs same day or tightly scheduled delivery (the start-ups focusing on these segments are fairly distinct, and building quite different models).
So is Uber Eats close enough to Uber transport to keep a single app, and deal with increasing UX headaches, or does it become another app, with- as Mark Zuckerberg put it- a better chance to deliver a great single experience, but friction in getting people to use extra apps? And then what about Uber’s next on-demand service, and the one after that… Uber is not the first to deal with this, and certainly won’t be the last, as more and more mobile-only apps look to exploit their initial successes.