Uber offers riders new entertainment feature

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Uber advertisement at a bus stop shelter
Uber advertisement at a bus stop shelter

Uber Technologies had an epiphany after dropping off its one billionth passenger over the holidays: People are spending a lot of time in its cars. Why not help riders enjoy themselves or get stuff done?

So the ride-hailing company is introducing a new feature, called Trip Experiences, that will allow third-party developers to send customized notifications and content to riders during their trip, if the passengers have given their permission. In a blog post Tuesday, Uber said it’s the biggest update to their application program interface since the release of the Ride Request service in March.

Some examples of what Trip Experiences could offer include a music playlist timed for the length of the ride, a five-minute news update, reviews of a restaurant you’re about to visit or a reminder to turn on the heat when you’re on your way home.

Uber, valued at $62.5 billion and operating in more than 300 cities, is trying to expand beyond just being a global car service. And as Uber faces price wars with Lyft and other rivals around the world, the company is looking to offer features that its competitors don’t have.

Uber has tested food and package delivery in some cities, and is working on new technology including self-driving cars. It hopes to integrate with as many third-party apps as possible and cites deals with United Airlines, StubHub and Facebook’s Messenger as ways that Uber has made it convenient for people to book a ride while doing something else.

While Uber’s stated mission with Trip Experiences is to “help make life simpler and easier for people to get around,” it could also be an opportunity for advertising to a captive market.

“I think it’s really important that this is an opt-in feature for users because Uber is trying to walk that fine line of monetizing their growing user base while not alienating that user base,” said Paul Sweeney, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence.

Uber recognizes that riders may be irritated by being targeted for ads, so users can turn off the feature at any time. In its tutorial to developers, Uber discourages apps from spamming riders. Bloomberg

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