Uber bets on developing world growth with low-data Uber Lite

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“The next hundreds of millions of riders for us are going to come from outside of the United States”, Uber’s head of rider experience Peter Deng tells me. The transportation giant already sees 75 million riders per month and 15 million rides per day. But to grow in the developing world, it had to rethink its app to work on the oldest phones and slowest networks. So Deng’s team traveled the globe asking people what they needed from Uber, but also what they didn’t. Anything less the critical was stripped out like a street vehicle getting turned into a racecar.

The result is Uber Lite.

Launching today in India before rolling out elsewhere, the app takes up just 5 megabytes. “You delete three selfies, you have room for Uber” Deng laughs. 300-millisecond response time means its quick to hail a ride, even for the 4 percent of users in India on sluggish 2G networks. And by streamlining the design and only showing maps by request, it won’t burn much data for users on a budget.

Uber needs to score growth in developing markets after retreating while cutting deals with local winner like Didi in China, Grab in Southeast Asia, and a forthcoming arrangement with Yandex in Russia. To reach its full potential, it has to start outcompeting homegrown competitors. Uber’s bet to do that may be its engineering and design prowess, which are what paved the way for Uber Lite.

We know we’re not just a US company, we’re a global company. Not only have we built this for the world. It was built in India” Deng tells me.

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