Recently Uber reworked the driver application's technical implementation, while completely redesigning the user interface. Unfortunately, the new application appears to be worse than the old application. The new application has a few new or improved features, but also introduces many defects into the user interface. Also, the new application appears to be less reliable than the old one, although the experiences of this author are not sufficient to reach a definite conclusion about overall reliability.
This article will describe in detail various defects, with emphasis on user interface, in the new application. Note that the defects are not described in order of importance.
Problems in Utilization of Screen Space
Any map on a cell phone must be small because the phone is small. As the phone sits on the dashboard mount and jumps around a little on any road not perfectly smooth, the Uber driver has trouble seeing the map. When the car is moving, the driver can take his eyes off the road only during brief moments. Also zoom in and zoom out gestures can be difficult on the small map. For these reasons, the user interface should try not to make the map any smaller than necessary. In the new UI, when the driver is en route to a pick up or drop off, a large black box shows the next turn and the address of the destination. This box wastes space and reduces map size because: 1) some of the text in the box has excessive size; 2) the box contains too much blank space; and 3) a small space is wasted immediately above the box.
Problems in the Text Showing Address of Pick Up or Drop Off
In the text showing the address, a portion of this text is in very small font in a gray color that contrasts little with the black background. This type of text is extremely difficult to read, especially when the car is in motion. The address should show the place name, street and city in a font whose color and size are sufficient for easy reading. In order to save space, the address should not include state, zip code, and "Express Pool: rider walks to final destination". In regard to Express Pool, there are other ways to tell drivers that riders walk to final destinations.
Problems Related to Overall Structure of User Interface
The old UI had tabs at the bottom of the screen to navigate to major areas of functionality. This overall organization by tabs seemed to work well enough. The new UI is totally different and no longer contains these tabs. Using the new UI, after the user drills down into screens of more and more detail, there is no easy way to return to the main screen. The only way to get back to the main screen is to go back through all screens that led to the current screen. Another difficulty exists when the user is viewing the main screen in the online state and without an assigned trip. The driver has to take two actions to go offline (or three actions if the app asks the driver for confirmation). Drivers need to go offline frequently. This should only require only a single tap.
Problems Related to Maps
Maps become more difficult to read when overlaid by ovals and other objects that are not directly related to content on the map. Fortunately, the new UI eliminates many of the map overlays that were present in the old UI. But the new UI also adds some new overlays. For example, when the driver is headed to a pick up or drop off, the new UI shows overlays to allow the user to switch between two views of the map. One view shows the entire route to the pick up or drop off, whereas the other view shows a smaller area that emphasizes the next turn. In the old UI the driver could switch easily between these views by tapping anywhere on the map. The new UI requires the driver to tap on overlay objects to switch between the views. The switch between views was easier and safer in the old UI, as the driver could make the switch without taking eyes off the road. The new UI makes these frequent switches more difficult and less safe, while also cluttering the map with overlays.
Another overlay on the maps is a compass that allows the user to rotate the map. This overlay should be eliminated because the rotation is never useful. In the standard frame of reference, the north direction points upward on the map. Deviation from this standard can cause confusion and is not useful.
In the old UI, a thick blue (or other colors that indicate traffic congestion) line shows the route from the current location to the pick up or drop off location. The new UI shows this same line but also shows a light blue line from the current location backward to indicate the part of the route the driver covered prior to the current time. The Uber driver does not care where he was driving in the past. He already knows roughly how much of the trip he has completed. He only thinks about present and future in getting a job done. The display of the past portion of the route adds no value and increases the time and effort of the driver to understand the route. The map needs to be easy to read so that the driver can comprehend it quickly when taking eyes off the road.
When the driver is not en route to a pick up or drop off, the map shows his current location as an arrow head within a small circle. But in the new UI, this circle is filled with the same white color as the map background. This makes the current location is difficult to see.
A Problem in the Table Showing Driver Earnings per Trip.
In the old UI, this table showed different data fields in different columns for logical organization and easy viewing. But the new UI wraps the data for a single trip onto an extra row, thus making this table less easy to read.
A Change in Policy Regarding Long Trips
When using the old application, the driver always received advance notification of a trip estimated to take longer than 45 minutes, so that the driver could decline to accept the trip. With the new application, the driver sometimes gets the advance warning of the trip greater then 45 minutes, but other times the driver receives no warning of the long trip and learns of it only when picking up the rider. This change in long trip policy may be the worst aspect of the new application from the point of view of the drivers. Uber drivers need to take breaks to eat, or relieve fatigue, or use a bathroom, or do other activities. Safety decreases when a long trip is assigned to a driver who is already fatigued. A former part time Uber driver told me he quit because he kept getting unwanted long trips. A current Uber driver told me of an incident in which he picked up a rider, learned upon pickup of the long trip, and had to cancel at the pickup location.
New Features in the New Application
For the most part, the new application offers all the same functionality as the old one but with a new user interface. But the new application also offers a small amount of new functionality. In particular, the new application sometimes notifies the driver that he is in a busy area and should expect to receive trip requests soon. But these "busy areas" often seem not to be very busy. Nevertheless, the "busy area" notice is informative enough to help the driver make a better decision in some instances. Another useful new feature remembers previously entered addresses, when the driver uses the feature to "set a destination".
Reliability of the Old and New Applications
Both the old and new driver applications have quality problems and malfunction more often than I would expect. These malfunctions often have a level of severity such that the driver needs to reboot the phone to get the Uber application working properly. In my experience with the old and new applications, the new one has actually malfunctioned more than the old one. But my limited experience is not sufficient to reach a definite conclusion about overall reliability for all users.
The new driver application has a user interface worse than that of the old application. The new application brings some benefit of new functionality, but not enough to make up for the poor UI. The new policy regarding notification of long trips is detrimental to Uber drivers. Reliability of the application may have decreased. After comparing many different aspects of the old and new Uber driver applications, we conclude that the new application is worse than the old one.