Uber Lite is a slimmed-down, 5MB version of the app for emerging markets

India is Uber’s last stand in Asia. The ride-hailing giant is doubling down on the nation of 1.3 billion people after selling off its business in China and Southeast Asia. And in order to reach as many people in India as possible, Uber is releasing a new minimal version of its app that saves space, works on any network, and is compatible with any basic Android phone.

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Uber Lite is launching first in India, but the company anticipates rolling it out in other emerging markets in the future. The app strips out much of the bells and whistles, offering a more space-saving experience for users with limited data plans, spottier connectivity, and slower than average internet speeds. It’s only compatible with Android phones, which the majority of the app’s target audience uses.

Uber Lite is less than 5MB to download, as compared to the regular Uber app’s 181.4MB size. Gone is the map with tiny Uber vehicles that users typically see when opening the app, replaced with a very stripped-down design. Maps are optional in Uber Lite to keep it running fast and smooth. But many of the existing features, like in-app support and the ability to share trips with friends and family, remain.

Uber Lite uses the rider’s GPS location to guess possible destinations, so minimal typing is needed. The app caches the city’s top places so that even when users are offline, no network is needed for them to surface. Additional features, such as language selection and ride requests without network connectivity, are forthcoming.

India’s dominant ride-hail app Ola has its own minimal version called (unsurprisingly) Ola Lite. The app, which was released in January, is only 1MB to download and also offers a very stripped-down version of its design and features.

Earlier this year, Uber was bullish on its business in India:
“India is a key component of our growth plan,” CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told television channel ETNow on Feb. 22. “If you look at the market, it’s one of our healthiest markets in terms of growth rates … When I think about Uber and where we are going to be five to 10 years from now, our success in India is going to play a vital part in the growth of this company and how we do in terms of innovation and in terms of where we are within the global mobility ecosystem.”

But whether that remains the case is unclear. In March, it was reported that Uber was in talks to sell its business to Ola, much like it did with Didi in China and Grab in Southeast Asia. Softbank, the Japanese tech giant that owns a 20 percent stake in Uber, is pressuring Uber to stem its losses in Asia and focus on its core western markets.
If that’s true, today’s announcement of Uber Lite could be read as a doubling down of the company’s intention to stay competitive in India. But then again, maybe a 5MB version of the app is just a 5MB version of the app.

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Author: Andrew J Hawkins
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