Mode in Maps

When designing products for the NBUs, we either enhance and customize our existing products to address their specific needs or develop new products from the ground up.

Motorcycle mode is an example – in fact, an epitome – of the former after we found out that our navigation app, Google Maps, was falling short in countries like India and Indonesia, where motorcycles and scooters are an overwhelmingly popular way to get around. The problem? Google Maps was designed for navigating on main roads. Our solution was to adapt the product to the millions of people who also use alleyways because they rely on two-wheelers – and motorcycle mode was born.

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Motorbike Mode in Kenya.

Launched in 2018, it is a feature that shows which routes are accessible to motorbikes and includes shortcuts such as alleyways that cars can’t fit through. It takes into account motorcycle speeds when calculating trip times and uses landmarks instead of street names for better orientation while traveling by two wheels instead of four. It also features custom routes, where it can tell drivers to avoid toll roads where motorcycles are prohibited, for example.

Motorcycle mode is a uniquely NBU product because of how it caters to the way of life in many NBU cities: increasingly urbanized with perpetually-congested roads and narrow alleyways or sideroads that fit only two-wheelers. The ability to weave through traffic, and a cheaper price point (compared to cars), makes motorcycles a particularly efficient mode of transport for people in these cities. Naturally, motorcycle mode was first launched in NBU countries like Africa, India, Indonesia, and Vietnam – which are among the largest motorcycle markets in the world – and then it was rolled out globally. This is testament to the idea that when we build for the NBUs, we build better for the rest of the world.

Another takeaway is the importance of immersion in building products for this group of users. Our research team (comprising engineers, UX designers, product managers, and marketing leads) met with two-wheeler drivers in Jaipur, Delhi, Bangalore, and Jakarta and rode bikes with them throughout the city. This immersive research process helped us understand the way the two-wheeler drivers made decisions on the road: some memorized the route beforehand and others followed voice navigation. The interactions also helped us see which features would be most helpful to drivers, such as shortcuts and landmarks, which could help them navigate the city faster and more safely. When choosing a name for the mode, we wanted to make sure it would be clear to users. To relate more closely to the local dialect, “two-wheeler” was chosen for audiences in India and “motor” for Indonesia. (See Immersion).

We learned that whatever the product, an immersive research process and collaborating with people in local communities throughout the product cycle are key to ensuring a more responsible, inclusive process.

Motorcycle mode wouldn’t have been possible without the support of ecosystem partners. In Indonesia, our team partnered with a group of drivers from Gojek, a ride-hailing and delivery company that operates in most of the cities across the country. We learned about the drivers’ deep knowledge of their city, daily needs, and community values. For example, they would rely on one another when they got lost or when their devices weren’t working well. The drivers also helped us through our product development process by testing the quality of the routes and landmarks and the accuracy of arrival times. This helped us quickly identify roads that were not suited for two-wheelers or additional landmarks that were missing from the map.


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