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Update: Ola Offline

Ola has also launched Ola Offline, a feature across all its cab categories where its users can book cabs without internet. For this, users need to go to the Ola app, where on detecting that the user does not have an internet connection, the app will prompt the user to retry or book through SMS. On choosing SMS booking, users will get redirected to their messaging app and see a pre-fed text message to book a cab. The user will then get a reply with nearest available cabs and the driver will see the GPS triangulated user location. When the user is back in connectivity, the app will show the ride details, GPS tracking and other features immediately. Ola says that it had been piloting this feature in smaller towns and cities like Indore and Nagpur since June and Ola Offline will be available in 4 metros with plans to roll out in other cities in the coming weeks.

Anand Subramanian, Ola’s senior director of PR & corporate communications, told MediaNama that the offline booking method did not change anything on the driver’s end. “The driver wouldn’t know that you’ve booked through the SMS or the app. This feature has been working on the driver’s side for quite some time now. Users use the Ola app only for a few minutes every day. The driver partners spend about 12-14 hours on the app and are more prone to losing data (connectivity) at multiple points. We developed this technology 2-3 years back so that nothing gets compromised on either the user or the driver end even if there is no internet. The SMS talks to the driver’s app even without the driver knowing it, it’s business as usual, nothing changes,” he said.

Earlier today: Ola has launched 3 features within its app to connect the user with the driver better:

Ola Hotspots

Ola Hotspots (not WiFi related) are ‘high demand areas’ like housing colonies, tech parks, malls and public places with multiple entry and exit points. Ola will send the closest user hotspots (text of the geographical location) to the driver in order to reduce the time required to spot a cab. It becomes a challenge for consumers to share and indicate where they’re gonna be boarding their cab, which is what we’ve solved with Hotspots.

Subramaniam told MediaNama that “Based on data and local intelligence, we have specifically mapped entrances and exits so that consumers can either choose or let the app choose the closest point for them. The same data point is communicated to the driver, that way the communication between the customer and the driver is far more simplified. (There is) Absolutely no reason to pick up the phone and explain because it’s all mapped in and he knows where to come and wait for you.”

“Depending on the user location while booking, we identify the closest hotspot. The map will prompt to you to go to a particular exit if there are multiple exits, putting your pin there, but you can always manually override if you want to take another exit. This is based on your pickup point patterns. If you live in a 20 floor high rise, you could be on any side of the road, but because we know that the user lives here and has boarded a cab (from there) the last 7 times, the map is able to intelligently override the user’s current GPS location to the pickup point. The first prompt is for the customer. As soon as the customer accepts or rejects the suggestion, the response goes to the driver. Based on your confirmation, the driver accepts,” he added.

“Overall the engineering team is about 1000 people and hundreds of them work directly and indirectly on mapping. Mapping is one of our core focuses in terms of technology and direction at this point of time.”

Snap to historic Pickup and Share Directions

The other 2 features are called “snap to historic pickup” and “share directions” which will triangulate the user’s pickup location history with their current pickup point to locate them better. Users can override this suggested pickup location. Share directions will let a user share the route to their location using the closest landmark. Hopefully this will reduce these kind of situations for Ola users:

We imagine that the ‘share directions’ feature will be the most helpful for its users, given the pain we all go through when the cab driver is trying to locate us.

Siri and Apple Maps integration

Last week, Ola integrated its app into Apple’s personal assistant Siri and Apple Maps on iOS devices, letting those users book directly from both these platforms. Ola says that users won’t need to open the Ola app to track the ride progress, and view ride estimates and ride progress through rich notifications. Right now, Ola users can get a cab through Google Maps, Practo and Via.com other than its standalone Android and iOS apps.

(Updates: added information on how hotspots work and on ola offline; deleted updates on past events which weren’t relevant for the story)