Rootstrap Logo
December 18, 2020

How To Build An App Like Uber

Since Uber’s first ride request in 2010, the tech giant's innovative engineers have revolutionized the rideshare industry. Fast forward to 2021, and withstanding a global pandemic, the company was valued at over $15 billion.

These are impressive numbers for what started as a simple idea that quickly became a global brand that rocked the rideshare industry to its core. 

With the post-pandemic economy waking up and vaccinations flowing, there has never been a better time to get in on the rideshare act. In March alone, Uber saw a 150% rise in revenue somewhere in the region of $83 billion. 

Factor in the additional demand for deliveries, and now could be the time to bring your Uber-like app to life. While the competition is stiff, with Uber and Lyft’s excessive price surging, combined with more social and work-related travel, there is plenty of room for an innovative new alternative. 

This article provides an in-depth and technical overview of the following information to get you on the road to disrupting the rideshare industry:

Table of contents

Can You Build An App Like Uber?

With Uber’s unlimited spending power and an engineering workforce for each platform in the hundreds, building an app like Uber is no small endeavor. 

Before committing to building the latest taxi app, there are many different areas and options to consider. With technological advancements much further along from when Uber first came on the scene in 2010, this may be in your favor. 

For example, is there a tech stack you could choose that uses new and improved toolsets? Are there Whitelabel tools to build necessary functions like matching riders and passengers, or do you have to build it from scratch? Can you create an Uber-type clone using a “no-code” tool? 

Before embarking on your taxi app journey, it will help to understand the original technology behind the Uber app. Let's take a look.

Uber’s Original Tech Stack 

The technology behind Uber has developed quite a bit since the app’s inception in 2010. Time is on your side here, as technological advances have made it much easier to implement the necessary features for a rideshare app. 

The first part of building Uber’s platform focused on the lower half of its tech stack, which was the engine for Uber’s engineering operation. This solid foundation was primarily created using Python, Node.js, Go, and Java. These languages were used for key functionalities such as infrastructure and data storage, automation, and routing/mapping. 

This first instance of the build was centered on the app’s infrastructure which was put in place to support everything that would be built on top of it, and there was a lot.  The second part of the build (a separate tech stack) focused on everything from Marketplace to web and mobile development, such as the technology used for phone interaction.

This layer of the build channels real-time locations and requests for the app. It also houses the rider/driver matching system and a digital payment feature for transactions. The marketplace allows for features to intertwine from top to bottom of the platform and flow up and down the stack. In other words, they are connecting drivers and passengers.

Uber engineers used all of its core languages at the time (Python, Node, Go, Java) to build their first marketplace. For Marketplace data and analytics on front-end applications, Uber used javascript, while on the back-end the engineers used Node.js. We will review Uber’s data and analytics process in further detail. 

When building the app’s trip execution engine for this part of the platform, Uber was one of only two companies to use Node.js for production purposes. At the time, the tool’s single-threaded processing and asynchronous primitives worked best for this feature. 

The next level build-up from the Marketplace was Uber’s web and mobile sides, and with it came completely different requirements. While Uber’s engineers used similar technologies from the first tech stack and Marketplace, a lot of the tech required at the top of the platform was unique.

The early Uber development team used languages such as Express.js and React.js to build their first web server, which controlled infrastructure integration. On the mobile side, Swift and Objective C were used to build iOS applications, while Java was used to develop the Android mobile app.

Uber’s engineers used third-party open-source libraries for the app’s unique needs. The size of Uber’s tech stack and a lack of general rules when originally developed make it a highly complex build to mirror.

What Does The Uber App Do?

On the surface, Uber appears to be a simple two-sided marketplace (two-sided network), but under the hood, the mechanics required to pair riders efficiently and drivers are quite complex: real-time embedded GPS and route optimization are among its most complex features. 

Similarly, complex features with multiple moving parts include messaging and rider recommendations, push notifications and SMS, and digital payment integrations. These multifaceted features all require sizable bespoke engineering.

An important functionality to factor into your app build will be facilitating the endless amount of constantly moving data through different platforms. The amount of data and analytics the Uber app intakes takes a lot of work to replicate. 

Think about it for a second - how do you absorb, store, and then analyze data for millions of car rides and everything else that comes with it? How do you digest this data for analytical and machine-learning purposes? For example, Uber created its own open-source deep learning engine, Neuropod.

To facilitate its data, Uber uses many data pipelines, somewhere in the region of 15,000. Uber’s engineers originally used Python framework-based methods for these pipelines. Still, they discovered over time that this was time-consuming coding with the growing data being digested. This marked the beginning of Uber’s data movement - uWorc, Unified Workflow Orchestrator

How Does the Uber App Work?

Uber has separate apps for both its drivers and passengers. These apps run on two frontends and a backend, with the latter operating as an admin panel for both apps.

The Uber app also has a highly robust backend that is key to the functionality of both these apps. Given the high volume the app experiences, it would only function with an effective admin panel.

Uber App Backend

Holding everything together, the Uber backend operates as the app's server and admin panel. The robust backend plays a key role as it receives requests for necessary data from the driver and passenger apps.

The backend also manages customer satisfaction and driver processes via web interface tracking. This allows for managing and monitoring drivers, passengers, payments, locations, etc. 

To build an app like Uber, your admin panel will need to have the following set of high-level functions to operate effectively: 

  • Verifying drivers, vehicles, and insurance
  • Managing and monitoring drivers
  • Verifying available and nearby drivers

How To Build an App like Uber

As previously mentioned, you will need separate apps for drivers and passengers and an admin panel to communicate between the two and collect data. Let’s start with the Uber driver app. 

Uber Driver App Functionalities

To build an app like Uber, your driver app will need embedded features to carry out the following: 

  • Alerting the driver: Your drivers will need the ability to view trip and passenger information and the option to either accept a ride or take a pass. 
  • Notifications between both apps: You will need a notifications feature allowing drivers and passengers to track and monitor each other and the trip in real-time. 
  • Geographical & Navigation: This embedded feature is needed to provide drivers with directions, routes, navigation, etc 
  • Reporting: This function will be needed by drivers for tracking their trips, hours, and mileage. They will also need this feature to invoice for their time.  
  • CommunicationYour driver app will need a messaging function allowing them to communicate with passengers and vice versa 

Passenger App Functionalities

Now that we’ve looked at the driver app features let's take a look at the passenger functionalities needed to build an app like uber. Your riders will need the following features: 

  • Requesting a ride: Riders will need to be able to do this via their iOS or Android device by using their current location and their requested end destination 
  • Selecting a driver:  Riders must be instantly matched with nearby drivers with the displayed price, vehicle, and rideshare options. 
  • Tracking driver: Passengers will need to be able to track their driver’s location in real-time via their current location. 
  • Communication: Like the driver app, your passenger app will need a communication tool to speak with drivers. 
  • Payment: Your passenger app will need a digital payment feature allowing passengers to pay drivers for their ride service. 
  • Feedback: This option will allow passengers to leave a review and rate the driver. This is an important feature of customer service. 

The Uber app uses the following programming languages to implement these features on its apps:

App Functionality Programming Language
Smalltalk Javascript & Objective-C
Supply & Demand Javascript & Objective-C
Dispatching Redis & Node JS
Pricing & Payment Python & Go

         

How Much Does It Cost To Build An App Like Uber?

To give you an idea of how much you may need to build an app like Uber, we will break down the price and time it can take to build the necessary infrastructure for this type of app.

Notifications & Communication

To build a taxi app, you will need a notification feature to communicate with your customers and for drivers and passengers to communicate with one another.   

For their iOS applications, Uber uses Apple Push Notifications, and for its Android app, it uses Firebase Cloud Messaging. Uber uses the cloud communications platform Twilio for communication between drivers and passengers. This is an important feature as it can greatly affect customer satisfaction. 

The following is the estimated cost and time for a U.S. developer to implement a communications and notifications feature:

Admin Panel iOS Android Cross-Platform
Hours 16 - 24 24 - 32 24 - 32 32 - 40
Cost $2k - 3k $2k - 4k $2k - 4k $4k - 5k

Geolocation & Navigation

Geolocation is a very important technology needed for this type of build. An effective taxi booking app will need high-performing navigation and mapping technologies embedded in its apps.

These technologies will allow these apps to locate drivers and passengers and provide pickup and destination routes.

To add this important feature, Uber uses CoreLocation for iOS implementation and Google’s location APIs for its Android implementation. 

The following is the estimated cost and time for a U.S. developer to implement this type of feature:

Admin Panel iOS Android Cross-Platform
Hours 100 - 150 100 - 150 100 - 150 150 - 200
Cost $12.5k - 19k $12.5k - 19k $12.5k - 19k $19k- 25k

UX/UI Design

In the development phase of your app, this is where you will be allocating most of your budget to. We'll go into your developer options in more detail shortly, but in the meantime, here's the potential cost for a U.S. developer to create a UX/UI for your taxi app.


iOS Android Cross-Platform Cross-Platform
Hours 65 - 110 65 - 110 80 - 125 150 - 200
Cost $8k - 14k $8k - 14k $10k - 15.5k $19k- 25k

Ride Cancellation

If you’ve used the Uber app, or any ride app for that matter, you’ll have likely used this feature on at least one occasion. While most likely not the most favored feature, it is, however, a necessary one. 

Here is the potential breakdown of what a cancellation feature by a U.S. developer could cost when you when building an app like Uber.

Admin Panel iOS Android Cross-Platform
Hours 16 - 24 24 - 32 24 - 32 30 - 38
Cost $2k - 3k $3k - 4k $3k - 4k $3.75k - 4.75k

Digital Payments

More popular than the previous, your payment option is a feature of significant importance for your taxi app. To accommodate payment inquiries, Uber has a price estimator feature

There is plenty of payment features to choose from here. Uber uses Braintree for this functionality, but other options include Stripe, Paypal, etc. 

The following tables display the potential cost of implementing a digital payment feature for your app by a U.S. developer.

Admin Panel iOS Android Cross-Platform
Hours 60 - 80 80 - 100 80 - 100 120 - 150
Cost $7.5k - 10k $10k - $12.5k $10k - $12.5k $15k - 18.75

Passenger Sign-Up & Profile

When building an app like Uber, this important feature will allow customers to sign up and create a profile on your app. A seamless and easy-to-use registration and interface will entice customers to continue using the app after signing up. This feature also allows customers to apply promo codes and leave reviews. 

Here is the potential breakdown of a U.S. app developer's cost to build this feature.

Admin Panel iOS Android Cross-Platform
Hours 50 - 60 60 - 80 60 - 80 80 - 110
Cost $6.25k - $7.5k $7.5k - $10k $7.5k - $10k $10k - $13.75

Who Is Going To Build Your APP?

Okay, so we’ve looked at the potential cost and time needed to build a ride-sharing app; now, you just need someone to develop it. Thankfully you don’t have to be tech-oriented or have unlimited resources to do this, as there is no shortage of experienced app developers to help you build a new innovative app. 

So, the two main options here depend on your unique circumstances: resources, budget, and time. These main options are hiring a developer or going down the staff augmentation route. Let’s take a look at each. 

IT Staff Augmentation

IT staff Augmentation is a good fit if you have some tech resources but need expert guidance. There are many benefits associated with IT staff augmentation, mainly that it’s cheaper than hiring an app developer. Another advantage is avoiding the hiring process and training any new personnel. 

As well as being cost-effective, it can save time and prevent unnecessary setbacks. With IT staff augmentation, you get highly trained developers ready and qualified to help you build an app. See how companies use IT staff augmentation to lower costs for app development.

Hiring an App Development Agency  

If you are non-tech-oriented, hiring a developer may be the best option to help you build an app. Finding the right app developer can take some time and research, but there are benefits if you put in the research and get it right. 

This part of the process will eat into your budget with the development of apps ranging from $80k to $250k. While there are more cost-effective nearshore options available, the following table provides a breakdown of the price for the three top app developer cities in the U.S.

Location Los Angeles New York San Francisco
Hourly Rate $100 - $199 $100-$199 $100 - $199
Min Project Size $10,000 $50,000 $10,000

This could be the most crucial decision in your app development process, and many find it daunting. So, to help you out, here are some tips and techniques to put those worries at ease and get you on your way.

Business Strategy 

Once you know who will build you an app, you must work with them to develop your business strategy. The Uber business model is an effective template to mirror for your taxi app development. This is a highly important part of the process as it can set you up for future success or failure.

Revenue Model

When building an app like Uber, it’s important to have a clear and concise revenue model embedded in your app before development. A successful pricing model could make all the difference and help your app stand out from the competition. See how Google’s pricing model operates. 

One cost-effective practice Uber incorporates is that it does not provide drivers with cars, i.e., only drivers with personal vehicles can drive for the company. Also, Uber uses the following price estimator to determine its rider prices. 

RideShare Competition 

When building an Uber-like app, keeping an eye on your competitors is a vital ongoing process. As Uber continues adding niches and industries to its portfolio, so is the competition. Even for an industry leader, Uber had a rough 2019 due to its stiff competition and reportedly lost up to $5 billion at the end of the year. It has also suffered substantial losses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Competitors such as Lyft, OLA, Curb, Grab, and Postmates, to name a few, are hot on their heels and developing innovative features of their own. There are also more traditional transportation areas stroking their interests, such as car rentals, buses, and bikes. A good example would be Lyft incorporating New York City’s Citibike into their service.  

To give you an idea of the type of competition Uber faces, we used the following table to show you the top 10 Uber clones in niche markets.


APP

Location
Release
Date
Estimated
# of Users
Estimated
Revenue

Grab

Asia

2012

187.0M

$1.0-5.0B


FreeNow


Europe




2019




150.0M




$50.0M


GETT


UK & Israel


2010


50.0M


$1.0B

OLA

India

2010

200.0M

$365.0B

99

Brazil

2012

18.0M

$1.0B

Bolt

Africa

2013

30.0M

$100-500M

Cabify

South America

2011

13.0M

$100-500M
Easy Taxi Global 2011 17.0M $5 - 25M

Yandex

Russia

2011

36.0M

$360.0M
BlaBlaCar France 2013 87.0M $25 - 100M

What To Take Away 

As mentioned, there is quite a lot of work involved in building this app. There is also stiff competition developing innovative technological advances that will likely continue to disrupt the transportation industry. 

That being said, resources are available to help your rideshare app come to life. We’ve examined and broken down the technical and financial needs and the key steps to take in the pre-development phase of your app. 

An advantage you have is that technology, specifically 5G, constantly changes the landscape. This is already clearing the way for potentially more than just traditional car ride services, i.e., flying taxis and self-driving cars. Yes, it looks like that time may be on the horizon, even after Uber’s unsuccessful attempts at both. 

Like fintech, the transportation industry, particularly self-driving cars, has investors paying very close attention. While it has proved tricky, and there have been setbacks, self-driving cars are a potential game-changer in this marketplace. 

Consequently, when building an app like Uber, it could prove beneficial to brainstorm other niches and keep ahead of the game here. Some examples are Uber Groceries, Uber Business, Uber Health, etc. For inspiration, check out the complete list of Uber’s technology offerings

So, the competition is fierce, and keeping up with them will be key to your app's success. In saying that, it’s also important to be innovative and create game-changing ideas. And while you might not be ready for self-driving cars and air transportation just yet, they are prime examples of the endless technological possibilities at your disposal. 

Author

Shaun Kennedy

How can we help you?