What a potential Uber API means for Lyft

UberX driver, Michael Belet, checks the Uber customer app so he can determine where the best place for him to get fares might be in Washington, DC.

Uber is working on an API for outside developers, according to unnamed TechCrunch sources.

The API would allow anyone to integrate the Uber “request a ride” button into their app the same way Google Maps now shows it. Hypothetically you could see it appearing in places like Hotel Tonight’s app, to take an Uber to your hotel, or Yelp’s app, to take you to a restaurant. It could encourage people to build apps purely for the Uber experience, like one that notifies you when surge pricing disappears during rush hour.

An external API could be a money-making endeavor by encouraging people to take Ubers more often. Furthermore, the Uber button would act as free marketing for the company, spreading the product brand name to new consumers. It’s essentially the network effect of connecting the Uber portal to other parts of the mobile web.

It would be a powerful arsenal in the ongoing ridesharing battles. If it’s true that Uber is working on such an API, it would have major implications for Lyft. In the age of the simplified app, it’s difficult to imagine companies choosing to integrate multiple rideshare requests buttons into their services. They’re likely to stick with just one, and it will probably be the one that gets there first.

It’s entirely possible that Lyft is developing its own API. The two companies do move in tandem sometimes — announcing expanded insurance options and carpooling features within days of each other, for instance.

Uber — older than Lyft, more established, and bigger — had a huge windfall with its Google Maps integration. If it beats Lyft to the punch on the API front too, the pink mustachioed company could be in trouble.

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