Best Apps of 2014: Why Uber made the top 3 and what they can do better

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A key element of user experience is the understanding that a product will survive if it offers a (1) unique value or a (2) marginal value with an exceptional user experience. 

The Top 10 Mobile apps of 2014 were released by Time, rated by popularity and promise. They included Kim Kardashian’s “Hollywood”, games such as 2048 and Flappy Bird, social media apps like Rooms and Hinge, an app for sending money called Venmo, and of course two apps with recent notoriety: Uber and Snapchat.

Uber has been in the news this past year for their high surge prices and threats to take down a reporter who criticized the company. Uber is a mobile app and ride service offering options such as Uber Black (high end cars) and Uber X (regular folks offering up their mid-class cars) and in some cities, Uber ride share where the user can allow the driver to pick up other users along the way for a cheaper fare. Uber’s unique value offers clean cars, sometimes with snacks and drinks provided, cashless transactions, and drivers that generally work hard to achieve a high user rating. City cab experiences can be a crapshoot: without ratings, drivers have no check and balance system.  Their cars are often dirty, the drivers rude, and the actual ride can be a bit reckless.

Using the app: 

The look of Uber’s app is clean and visually pleasing. It opens with a dark screen and white letters: contrast being a key component of drawing the user’s eye.


Opening page to Uber app

Uber understands the limitations of working memory, and offers to scan your credit card rather than having you type it in, which would require the user to look back and forth between the credit card and app because working memory capacity is typically 5-7 digits. To do this, the user just holds their credit card up to the camera and the app registers the digits.


Option to scan credit card

Another feature that addresses working memory limitations is the Current Location pin. When you open the app, it immediately finds you and drops the pin in your current location. This saves a user from trying to figure out and remember where they are if it is unfamiliar to them.

All of the cars look the same and align with the Uber options at the bottom so the users can tell with a cursory glance which go together in the same group. This means that when the user has selected UberX, the cars are silver; Taxi, the cars are yellow; UberBlack, the cars are black. This is an essential feature of an app that allows a user to pre-attentively process the elements and work more efficiently towards their goal.


Current Location Pin, Same-looking cars, and alignment of Uber ride options

Uber limits the menu options to the 6 items shown below, which makes it easier for a user to get familiar with the system and develop a comprehensive mental model for future uses.


6 Menu Options: Less than 7 is key for allowing users to create a mental model

The app is easy to use and provides a unique value for a user: a ride where the user’s experience directly affects the driver’s ratings and his job stability. This motivation for the driver to please the user is something that the user might not experience with a random city cab.

The Future of Uber & Recommendations for an Improved User Experience: 


Uber surge pricing: controversial business practices

Uber has received criticism for surging during emergencies, such as Hurricane Sandy. Uber did promise to cap surge prices during emergencies in NYC, after pressure from the Attorney General. Uber has stood by their surge pricing, stating that these prices are used to convince more drivers to be available to work in times of high demand.

However, the user must calculate and understand the cost of a ride during surge pricing, which is a convoluted process with the current design of the app. This poor design impacts a user’s ability to store key information in their working memory and make a satisfactory decision.

Step 1: Set Pickup Location

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Step 1

Step 2: Accept a surge price or decline with notification of surge price end


Step 2

Note the proximity of the buttons and think about the user and environment: will they be focused enough to think about the surge value, calculate the fare, and select the right option?

Step 3: When a surge is higher than 1.5, the user has to type in the rate to prove acceptance


Step 3

Step 4: Confirm location with option to estimate fare


Step 4

Step 5: Review surge estimate


Step 5

Step 6: Request Uber 

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Step 6

There is only one point in the process where the user can estimate the fare, and it is an option, not a requirement. This means that users waiting outside in the cold, in a hurry to get somewhere, distracted, or under the influence of alcohol, have one opportunity to see the possible total cost of their fare. This could result in a bad user experience when the user gets their bill to discover they spent $250 on a ride home.

Uber may blame some of their higher surge complaints on user error, because the user must “accept” the surge prices in order to proceed. However, Uber should strive to create a trustworthy brand and their business model should include a simple and transparent surge price process.

A user might see “3.2x” surge price, but that is an abstract number to most people. What does that number mean and where does it come from?

Uber needs to take the burden off the user and integrate the fare calculation into the user’s acceptance of the surge price. The wireframes below demonstrate a more honest and direct approach to surge pricing.

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Provides users with the option to estimate total cost before accepting, or to decline and be notified when there is no surge price or a lower rate acceptable by the user. Note: Also more room between buttons for decrease in possibility of error in selection.


Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 1.16.36 PM

This screen would appear after the user has put in their location, reminding them of the total cost and requiring the user to accept the surge value.


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