Last month, Uber and Coding Dojo hosted a 48-hour hackathon competition in San Jose—a student and alumni challenge to generate ideas that would improve Uber’s impact on the community. The winner of the contest was TextBer, an SMS version of Uber’s popular smartphone app that will allow non-smartphone users to access the service using basic text messaging.
The idea isn’t as passé as one might think. While it’s easy to take smartphones for granted in the age of instant-access, the TextBer team focused on people who are marginalized from services like Uber due to various circumstances.
According to an April study by Pew Research Center, only 27% of adults over 65 have smartphones; half of all adults making less than $30,000 a year are without smart devices as well. However, many of these individuals have the ability to send text messages using their mobile devices, which is precisely what TextBer aims to capitalize on in their SMS version.
“My grandfather has Alzheimer’s,” said Arash Namvar, one of TextBer’s developers. “…TextBer allows him to easily get an Uber ride from his house to my house. It makes me feel better because he’s safe.”
Namvar and four other creators spent several hours brainstorming the dilemma before they decided to construct TextBer for the contest, which is currently in beta and utilizing UberX car—Uber’s lower-cost product.
How it Works
Using a desktop computer, users create an Uber account with a credit card and link their TextBer account with a specific cell phone number. To receive the service, users simply text a pickup and dropoff address to TextBer. A time estimate and quote will be texted back to the user’s cell phone, at which time they can approve the message and dispatch the driver.
The current version of TextBer is limited to UberX vehicles and SMS messaging; however, the team of creators hopes to build more features that will benefit the visually impaired and those with disabilities.
Other features discussed may include default home settings and common location identifiers so users wouldn’t have to type repetitive information.
SMS is an affordable alternative for service-based communications, which may grow in popularity as this SMS service moves forward through production. In addition to helping users without smartphones, this service will hopefully provide a service that makes life a little easier (and safer) for those in need of a driver; regardless of age, economic status or smartphone.