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01.27.16

I booked an Uber via Messenger, and this is how it went.

Mathew Bernstein

It is hard to deny the power of the behemoth that is Facebook. Not only has their market cap soared to over $300 billion but as of this month the increasingly popular Messenger app is now the second most popular iOS app with over 800 million monthly active users. Any idea what the most popular iOS app is? Yep, the official Facebook app.

In an effort to ensure Messenger users never have to spend a minute outside of their app, Facebook and Uber partnered up to allow a ride to be booked from within a chat.

This triggered a few questions, which I ultimately set out to answer. Before I get to that, though, I want to address my current use of both the Uber and Messenger apps:

I use Uber at least twice a week and like many others, have come to rely on it as a convenient transportation option. Currently I request rides only through the official Uber app on my iPhone and the experience is great.

Until last week I didn’t even have Messenger installed on my iPhone. Neither my personal or professional networks rely on it to communicate, and frankly I was a little put-off when Facebook stripped chat out of the main app and demanded that I install another one.

Regardless, learning about the ability to book Uber via Messenger got me thinking that a partnership like this could have a major impact on the way that people book services. With the recent addition of Payments last year, it is easy to eventually see users treating Messenger like a do-everything platform instead of just a replacement for SMS or email. A few questions came to mind:

  • Can Messenger produce the same high-quality user experience offered in the official Uber application?
  • If not, am I willing to sacrifice a high-quality user experience in favor of the convenience of booking a trip directly from a chat?
  • Would the addition of this feature get me to use Messenger on a regular basis?

Though I had a pretty good idea as to what the answer to these questions would be, I figured it would be worth testing for myself. Here’s how it went.

BOOKING UBER VIA MESSENGER

Video: An overview of the booking process in Messenger.

Knowing that I would need transportation to a meeting offsite with IdeaPaint - a longtime partner of ours - later that afternoon I preemptively downloaded the Messenger app, started a new conversation with Uber and clicked on the little “car” icon. This action resulted in a prompt asking me to log into Uber through the Messenger app in a couple taps, which triggered a message confirming the connection.

Left: Messenger requires access approval.
Right: The registration confirmation message. 

Just before heading out I pinged my colleague Tim and let him know I was about to leave the office. He confirmed that I should meet him there and provided me with the address. Normally I would have done my best to memorize the address and type it into the Uber app, but because of this new feature I can simply click on the address to pop up a menu containing a new option: Request a Ride.

Left: Clicking an address to bring up a context menu.
Right: The new 'Request a Ride' option.

This option brings up a new screen where I can select the level of service, confirm the origin and destination addresses, review the expected pickup time and cost, as well as choose my payment method. One thing not displayed here is a visualization of the available cars in my area, a feature that is available in the Uber app. Lately there has been some discussion as to whether this data is even accurate based on data uncovered during this Northeastern University Study.

Left: The request screen in the Messenger app.
Right: The experience in Uber's app displaying driver locations.

Though I couldn’t see the drivers in my area everything else looked good so I clicked Request. Quick and simple; so far so good.

Within seconds I received a new message from Uber in the Messenger app displaying a map of my journey and informing me that I would be notified when my driver was on the way. Tim, my colleague, also received a notification that I had Requested a ride indicating that I would be on the way shortly.

Left: The request confirmation in Messenger.
Right: Messenger's driver arrival notifications.

The map inside the Messenger app is a nice visual, but there is no indication of the route that would be suggested, which does appear at this stage of the process in Uber's app.

Then something a bit weird happened. As you can see in the screenshot above I was actually notified that Ronald was arriving at my location prior to being notified that he was on his way. No big deal, but a bit confusing at first.

This issue caused me some confusion. After walking out to the street I was having a hard time finding Ronald’s Toyota Corolla so I opened Messenger to see if I could find his location on the map. Unfortunately clicking the map proved useless and Ronald’s location was not revealed. I quickly opened the Uber app and was pleased to see not only that the details of my requested ride and destination were in the app, but also that Ronald’s location was revealed to be about 50 yards down the road from my current location. Having to open the Uber app was a definite cause of friction and an inconvenience.

Left: Uber's app picked up my trip without an issue.
Right: A copy of the receipt displayed in Messenger.

The trip to my meeting was uneventful. Ronald did a great job behind the wheel and I arrived with plenty of time to spare. Upon arrival Uber sent my receipt via the Messenger app and I received a duplicate copy in my email.

WRAP UP

Although being able to click an address within a chat is cool, timesaving feature, I don’t think it is going to get me to switch to booking rides from the app on a regular basis, especially because the experience is better in the official app. If I regularly used Messenger to communicate with my friends and colleagues this would certainly be a convenient way to trigger the ride and let them know I was on the way.

So can one feature increase user dependency enough to the point where Messenger is the go-to app for everything? Probably not, but Facebook is certainly on the right track. Eventually the convenience of layering additional services into a widespread messaging app will likely trump the slightly better user experience provided by individual apps here in the USA, just as it has in China.

Maybe it’s time for me to come to terms with a singular messaging app myself.

Have you booked a ride through Facebook's Messenger app? Drop us a line via @BreakawayBoston on Twitter and let us know how it went.