A new taxi booking app in Beijing proves the promise of mobile engagement in China. At least so says analyst Zhao Wenyuan of Forrester Research on his blog, which starts with a hypothetical, "How much would it cost to establish a taxi dispatching system in a city of 20 million people, with nearly 66,000 taxis jamming the roads?
The city in question is Beijing, and Zhao goes on to draw a comparison with a less-populous city-state.
"Consider that Singapore, with a population of about 5 million, has spent tens of millions of dollars to build a customised system with screens and sensors installed in almost every taxi and a large-scale call centre to support it," he says.
Then he goes back to Beijing, to what he figures is the answer to his starting question-Didi Taxi, a mobile app with which users can bid for taxis, book their taxis and confirm their pickup locations.
After going through the process by which a passenger would secure the a cab ride via Didi Taxi, Zhao says, "This is certainly not the most efficient way to book a taxi, especially compared with more automated systems such as the one in Singapore. But it is quick, transparent and cheap."
And that is better than good enough, it seems.
"As of the end of February 2013-just six months after launch-more than 12,000 Beijing taxi drivers (or 18 percent of the total taxi population) were using this mobile app, with more downloading it every day," says Zhao, who then attributes much to the consumerisation of IT and increasing adoption of BYOD. "The increasing penetration of smartphones in China (35 percent of all mobile subscribers in 2013 were using smartphones) is the foundation for app developers and infrastructure and operations (I&O) professionals to deliver improved services via mobile apps at a much lower cost."
Zhao's pithy conclusion is, "Sometimes, a 'quick and dirty' mobile app can be immensely effective, even when the app itself isn't particularly elegant or sophisticated."
That's very difficult to argue with if, especially if you consider what seem to be indications of success for such an app.
According to China Daily, "there are more than 4,000 requests for cabs on average every day through the system [and] some 70 percent of them lead to deals." And those numbers are growing every day, by most accounts. Also, Didi Taxi is used in two other major Chinese cities-Guangzhou and Shenzhen-and soon will be made available for taxi drivers and their prospective passengers in other cities.
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