redesign | transport: Brilliant move by metromile to offer special Uber insurance

The insurance industry has been slow in adapting to the new economy. Companies like Uber and Airbnb challenge the traditional delineations in insurance: personal vs. business use.

Personal insurance is designed to cover non-commercial use. If you, your friends and family are the only ones using your property, the risk is lower than if a bunch of strangers come and go. If you’re driving your car alone, the risk is lower than if you’re transporting a passenger. As a result, personal lines are cheaper.

Uber and Airbnb had been relying on personal insurance to cover damage and liability with their products. That clearly wasn’t going to be sustainable. So legislation was passed to make commercial liability insurance mandatory in some cases.

But that created another problem: it screwed drivers for Uber and Lyft. Auto insurance is rated in part based on the number of miles you drive. Uber driving was raising that number, even though that driving was not insured. It was fundamentally unfair in the other direction.

I suggested a few months ago that drivers will be able to back out the mileage that they are “on the clock,” when the insurer wasn’t actually providing insurance.

Now, Uber has partnered with Metromile to do just that. This is a great example of an insurer designing a product to fit the new economy. Metromile’s original product (I’m a customer) had already improved the status quo. It uses a dongle that plugs into your car’s OBD-II port to talk with the network and your phone. Because of that, it can tell you each trip you took, how far you drove, approximately how much you spent on gas, etc. Metromile goes even further: it can tell you where you parked your car and whether street sweepers are going to come by and hit you with a $75 fee.

This is a move that makes sense for anyone who does serious mileage on Uber. I’d expect other insurers to follow with similar models, though that will likely take months (if not longer).

The insurance industry can get creative when it needs to be. If insurers can come up with a policy for trained bears (value: $250,000) in Hollywood, they can certainly insure the new economy.

redesign | mobile: Why Google’s MVNO is unlikely to make a huge impact

The Information reported that Google will be launching an MVNO, reselling wireless service from the Sprint and T-Mobile networks. This has little chance of making a significant impact on the U.S. wireless market.

What is an MVNO?

To understand what Google is doing, it’s important to understand what an MVNO is. The acronym stands for Mobile Virtual Network Operator. These are companies that buy network service from companies like AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon at wholesale prices and then resell them to consumers at retail prices. Often, these prices are much lower for low-usage customers than the big brand names. The MVNO handles pricing, packaging, marketing, billing and customer service. (This is a simplification.)

Why do MVNOs exist?

There are three big reasons:

  1. Carriers suck at specialty marketing. Virtually all of carrier marketing is focused on the mass market. Going after smaller segments isn’t their thing. With MVNOs, they let someone else handle that. Consumer Cellular (one of my favorites) targets seniors. Tracfone targets lower income customers. Even retailers like Target (Brightspot) and Walmart (StraightTalk) have their own mobile brands.
  2. Carriers are focused on increasing ARPU, because that’s what Wall Street looks at. If you look at what gets marketed, it’s typically plans that start at $100. Their financials can separate retail from wholesale ARPU.
  3. Carriers have excess network capacity and want to make money for it.

What Google lacks

  • Customer service. This is something that the company is not known for; although its service reputation isn’t nearly as bad as PayPal’s, it is a brand associated with little to no service. (To be fair, I had a great experience with Google Drive phone support.)
  • Retail. Google has no retail experience to speak of. There is a reason there is a wireless company store or three every block in urban areas — it works! Even Apple has its own, highly lauded distribution network.
  • Marketing. Having a hugely successful product with almost no marketing has resulted in Google’s almost complete inability to market products. See: Google Wallet, Nexus, Google TV, Google+…

Some have compared a Google MVNO with Google Fiber. Yes, both are in communications. But Google Fiber is bringing something unique to customers — extremely high speeds. A Google MVNO would have no such differentiation. Being on lesser networks would also make it harder to draw customers from the big two, substantially limiting the market.

It’s extremely bold for Google to try an MVNO. It’s something that not even Apple or Amazon has attempted. And both companies are much better at customer service and retail.

redesign | apple: What’s wrong with how Siri is responding to a request to send a message?

The big issue here is that Siri says “I’ll send your message.” Was it sent? Or is it stuck somewhere? Will it be sent immediately or 10 minutes from now?

The interface doesn’t reflect that the message was ever sent.

Apple does things like this because they want Siri to appear conversational. In some cases, it responds “Done.” to the same command. If you were to ask a friend 10 times to do something, the response each time might vary: “Yup” “Got it” “Done” “I’ll do it.” etc. That makes sense when you’re talking to a human. Not so much when you want predictability from your phone.

From redesign’s Victor Marks:

Bonus points for this comment:

Apple clears the message information off the screen and wastes a lot of real estate.

redesign | google: What’s the most obvious thing wrong with this Google Maps experience?

Google is telling us “No route found”. This a fairly simple request, from my location to Target. But Google didn’t check to see if there was connectivity before presenting the error message. This shows a common problem in UX design.

Such error messages should come from the server, not presented locally. If there isn’t connectivity, the user should be told to check connectivity or turn off airplane mode.

Android can detect airplane mode directly. I couldn’t find a similar check for iOS, but the app could test for connectivity in other ways.

From redesign’s Victor Marks:


redesign | apple: How would you improve this iMessage experience?

There are three keys to solving this puzzle:

  • The hashtag #lowbandwidth.
  • The E indicator in the status bar, showing that the phone is on and Edge network.
  • The stuck “Sending…” indicator.

My answer here is to fall back to SMS when the data network doesn’t work. Apple has created its own messaging system that runs over your phone’s data connection. In most cases, this is good. It allows Apple to deliver a richer set of features, free international messaging and can be faster.

But SMS is more robust because it uses a separate signaling channel. (This is why you should use SMS in emergency situations.)

One of my frustrations with a lot of mobile design is that it ignores low-bandwidth use cases. That’s important for areas where there is sparse coverage. It’s also important if you want your app to work reasonably well in international markets.

Some other answers from Twitter:

This really works best in normal- or high-bandwidth situations. Pre-fetching also uses data that a user on a metered data plan might not want to use.

I use Glympse for this, largely out of habit. But the latest version of iOS does include sending location.