Uber

What Uber’s Purchase of Bing Maps and deCarta Mean for You

Sitting pretty at $50 billion in valuation, Uber tops the list of Silicon Valley’s ‘unicorns’. Unicorns as they are popularly called, are a rarefied group of tech startups that have amassed a valuation of over a billion dollars thanks to aggressive fundraising.

However, its valuation is not what makes Uber so newsworthy. From sexual assault allegations against its drivers, to lawsuits due to weak background checks to a backlash by organized cab services across the globe to even top executives being caught with their foot in their mouths; Uber has demonstrated an unusual appetite for public attention.

However, not every instance of publicity that Uber has met with has been negative. Besides raising more funds from investors, venture capital firms and other technology companies like Google and Baidu, Uber made a high profile acquisition this March. Mapping and location services company deCarta was bought for an undisclosed sum. Last month, it added another mapping service to its kitty – Bing’s mapping and image collection division.

The similarity of these acquisitions prompt speculation about Uber’s future plans and what they mean for cab riders like you and me.

A Step towards Solidity

Uber has the unusual distinction of being the most prized Silicon Valley startup that is banned in a bunch of countries like Spain, Thailand and parts of India with another long list of countries and cities fighting to join the group. Even in its home base in the United States, Uber faces a complete ban in the state of Nevada and parts of Oregon. Six more US cities have temporarily suspended its services.

Expensive acquisitions are often indicators of a company’s desire to cement its position and let it be known that it’s not going anywhere. As a consumer who’s enjoyed Uber’s quick and cheap services, these acquisitions mean that my favorite on-demand cab service is here to stay.

Better Services in the Offing

Anyone who’s ever ridden in a cab (any cab!) can testify to the fact that cabbies around the world are notorious for taking unnecessarily long routes just to keep the meter ticking that much longer. A positive outcome of these acquisitions is that as consumers, we can expect quicker, more accurate services from Uber.

UberPool – Uber’s ride sharing service is popular among consumers wanting to shave a few more dollars off of an already lean taxi fare. Riders are picked up at designated locations along the route of a cab and fares are adjusted according to distance ridden. The location services of deCarta and Bing both can be steered into improving routing for shared taxi rides that use the UberPool service.

Dedicated mapping services powering Uber’s engine could also mean shorter trips and more savings for consumers. Arrival time estimates for pickups and drop offs will also potentially become more accurate and glitch-free.

Market Expansion

According to its own website, Uber currently operates in 57 countries around the world, with a focus on large towns and metropolitan cities. Apart from ripe markets that offer strong demand for alternative cab services, one good reason for this limitation is the level of geographical mapping accuracy available for smaller towns. With the integration of not one, but two leading mapping services, Uber has set itself up to penetrate smaller markets where it will face lesser competition.

Call Saratoga Springs, NY your home? An Uber cab might be driving up your street sooner than you think.

Brand Partnerships for Local Results

Let’s say you’re heading out to the airport in an Uber cab, straight from work, for a late night flight. If you’re anything like me, you’ve likely not had a chance to grab a quick dinner before leaving, and are dreading being ripped off for overpriced food that tastes like saw dust at the airport.

How awesome would it be if the Uber app sent you a notification about a great local restaurant that’s right on your way to the airport? How about getting a special deal for a meal at that restaurant, right now? Partnerships with other brands by leveraging deCarta and Bing maps’ local search services is a distinct route that Uber could vroom down. The combination of detailed mapping data, search technology with the ability to index local content and a custom profile of each user puts Uber in a uniquely strong position for such a service, should it consider it relevant to its overall growth plans.

Usher in the Next Big Thing

We’re all privy to Uber’s endless woes thanks to its cab drivers. The realities that Uber drivers are often unlicensed and go through background checks that are sometimes inadequate, lead to criminal offences and more, making them somewhat of a liability to this fast growing startup. With the number of poor user experiences that Uber has faced owing to its drivers, it is an apt candidate for self-driving cars.

 

Close on the heels of Google, Mercedes-Benz and Audi, the company is already exploring self-driving cars in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon’s advanced robotics center. Self-driving cars rely on pinpoint accuracy in mapping cities down to the street level – a place where both Bing maps and deCarta will be a huge help. Uber seems pretty serious about doing away with its fleet of human drivers over time, with test versions of its first self-driving car spotted in Pittsburgh as recently as last week.

The possibilities of how these acquisitions could turn out are endless. However, when it’s everyone’s favorite whipping boy, Uber, curiosity levels are bound to sky rocket. Whether Uber lives up to its image as a bold (brash?) tech startup that blazes new trails with these acquisitions remains to be seen.

 

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