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Uber Wants to Make Your Ride a Little More Interesting

January 12, 2016, 12:47 PM UTC
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Th Uber Technologies Inc. car service application (app) is demonstrated for a photograph on an Apple Inc. iPhone in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014.
Photograph by Bloomberg via Getty Images

If you thought the rise of Uber meant the end of backseat TVs with ads and news quips typically found in taxis, think again.

On Tuesday, the ride-hailing giant introduced what it calls “Trip Experiences,” which is a fancy name for mobile notifications and content from third party services.

The idea is that while you’re in an Uber car on the way to your destination, other apps and services can push you content to consume during your ride. And because these third parties are connecting to you through Uber’s application programming interface, or API, the content can be customized to your trip since data about the destination and duration can be accessed.

In a blog post, Uber describes scenarios like a short playlist of songs for a 10-minute ride to school, a short news brief during the morning work commute, tips and reviews about the restaurant you’re going to, and a prompt to turn on the heat from your connected thermostat while on your way home, among others.

While all the above sounds quite pleasant and even useful, companies and marketers will surely attempt to turn these into a new marketing channel, especially given targeting information such as location and destination. Just picture a slew of promotions and ads for retailers near your destination.

The compromise? You’ll only receive this content if you opt into it. So yes, you can choose to not take the risk and just avoid any and all of these Trip Experiences. According to Uber’s blog post on the new feature, users can not only opt in, but also turn off access if they change their minds and adjust permissions on an app-by-app basis.

Third-party developers will also have to get a bit creative when it comes to using Trip Experiences to serve up ads. As The Verge notes, Uber’s developer terms prohibit them from using the tool to serve up unsolicited ads and promotions willy-nilly—the content has to aim to enrich the user’s experience during the trip. However, a music playlist could include an ad or two, and a restaurant guide could come with a promotion for a meal there, for example.

While it’s not clear how much of a revenue source Trip Experiences, or any of Uber’s other API initiatives really are at the moment, they’re sure to become an increasingly important part of the company’s interactions with consumers. Since debuting its API in August 2014, the company has let developers integrate the ability to summon an Uber ride from within their own apps, and it recently rolled out an easier-to-use version it calls the “Ride Request Button” for iOS and Android apps.