Can Uber woo more Indians with its Lite app?

Can Uber woo more Indians with its Lite app?
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In a move to expand its India play, global ride-sharing firm Uber has launched a space-saving, Lite version of its app in the country.

Developed in India, Uber Lite is less than 5 MB to download. It can store a user’s top locations so that even when the customer is offline, no network is needed for the places to appear, a company statement said on Tuesday.

The development comes at a time when Uber is cutting down on some of its overseas operations. In March, it exited the Southeast Asia market by selling its business to local rival Grab.

In April, Uber’s chief operating officer said that the company is doubling down on its investments in India, which is considered to be one of the firm’s biggest markets.

India accounts for more than 10% of Uber rides globally and the company has more than 35% share of the taxi market, but it is yet to make money in the country, according to Counterpoint Research.

In India, Uber competes with local player Ola and both are locked in an intense battle to win market share in the country. The two cab hailing firms also have a common investor, SoftBank, which has pushed for a merger of the two firms.

“We have over 75 million monthly active riders, which is a tiny fraction of the world’s population. With such a huge growth opportunity outside of the US, we are committed to building for the next hundreds of millions of riders. To better serve them, we are doubling down on building and designing products entirely in India — Uber Lite is our biggest launch yet on this journey,” Manik Gupta, vice president and head of product, at Uber, said in a statement.

However, rival Ola already beat the US company by launching a lite version of its app in December 2017. Ola Lite consumes less than 1MB of space.

Does the launch of the Uber Lite app mean the company has a larger strategy for its India operations?

According to Ashutosh Johri, founder of bike taxi startup Baxi, Uber may be targeting to re-enter smaller towns. “In India people delete apps from their phones. They may have smartphones, but space is limited,” he explained.

As a means to further penetrate the Indian market, Uber said it will soon introduce more features on its Lite app, including the ability for riders to select their preferred Indian vernacular language.

“You have to keep on innovating. There is a push to portray them [Uber] as an Indian brand. If you are in Bangalore, there is a Kannada lobby there. If you are in Mumbai, there is the Marathi lobby. So, they are branding themselves as somebody closer home, I would assume,” Dipanjan Purkayastha, co-founder of cab-app TYGR, said.

Uber Lite will be piloting in Jaipur, Hyderabad and Delhi before moving to foreign countries, the company said.