Uber is rolling out a new feature for drivers where customers can chat in-app with them. The company believes that this can be used to give drivers better directions or avoid any obstacles that are in the way. Uber adds that when drivers receive a chat from the rider, it will be read aloud to them.

But Uber says it has got its drivers covered and they can acknowledge receipt with one tap to their app to send a “thumbs up” to their rider. “That way, they can stay focused on the road. Both riders and drivers will see if their chats are delivered and read, helping to confirm the other actually received the communication,” Uber added in a blog post.

Sounds smart.  Here’s a friendly reminder from Bangalore police that it is not good to text while driving. Safety first people.

“Our in-app chat feature also means that regardless of where they are located – whether it be the Cleveland, Chennai or Cartagena –  riders and drivers won’t need to share their phone number with one another when they need to get in touch,” it added. A global rollout

And here is why it’s a terrible idea for India

If the aim of adding the chat feature was to reduce the number of calls to a driver from a customer to give an exact location, Uber has failed. In case Uber’s engineers had not noticed, drivers across India use WhatsApp to communicate via voice notes. (How do we know this? They kept sending us a number of notes which talked about them… well, committing suicide).

Drivers in India are not familiar with chat interfaces because of:

  • They cannot message in English and is an unfamiliar language for many here. There is still not a lot of widespread support for Indic languages.
  • The message will be played back in English and perhaps in an American accent. Drivers frequently complain of the default American accent on Google Maps as they have difficulty understanding it.
  • Many people text transliterations of local languages in English. Uber’s voice translation software will have difficulty in deciphering these messages.
  • This might lead to drivers calling customers to ask for locations. The very problem Uber was trying to avoid.

Try again Uber.