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Innovation Economy

Boston Cab vs. Uber: an app contest

Highlights from the Innovation Economy blog.

Just before it sued the upstart company that makes Uber, an app to summon taxis and other chauffeured vehicles, Boston Cab Dispatch updated its own iPhone and Android apps. It struck me as a good time for a comparison test. I use Uber about once a week, mostly for cabs or mid-range UberX vehicles, as opposed to pricier town cars and SUVs. (Uber offers four vehicle types.)

I used Boston Cab’s iPhone app three times. The first time, I entered only the Beacon Hill pickup address. After waiting 10 minutes, I clicked a button to call Boston Cab’s dispatch center. They had seen my request but had not sent a cab because I had not punched in my destination. (Uber’s app requires only a pick-up address.) I hopped on the MBTA instead. But two other times the Boston Cab app made a taxi materialize in about 10 minutes. Here’s my take on it, compared with Uber:

Pros

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 It’s $1 cheaper than Uber. Uber mandates a 20 percent gratuity, regardless of the quality of service you receive.

 After trying to guess your location using your phone’s built-in GPS, Boston Cab’s app lets you adjust the pick-up address if it isn’t correct. I frequently have trouble doing this with Uber’s app.

 Boston Cab has a My Bookings feature that lets you view all of your trips from the past month, including the amount you spent, time, pick-up point, and destination. You can click a button to rebook a trip.

 You can book a trip in advance, such as an early morning airport trip for tomorrow. (I did not test this feature.) Uber supports only what you might call ASAP requests.

Cons

 Unlike Uber’s app, Boston Cab’s does not instantly give you information about how long it will take a cab to reach you. (Uber at least gives a ballpark estimate.) You don’t see any cab icons on the map until Boston Cab’s dispatch center assigns one to pick you up. Even then, you don’t get an estimate of how long it will be. Nor did the app regularly update my cab’s location, as Uber’s does, to give me a sense of when it was time to pop outside.

 Boston Cab’s app does not store credit card information. With Uber, you can just say “thanks” and dash. The app automatically bills your credit card at the ride’s conclusion.

 Entering a destination can be a pain, and the information isn’t conveyed to the driver. (At least it wasn’t for either of my rides.)

 Boston Cab doesn’t automatically invite you to give your driver a star rating.

The upshot

I was pleasantly surprised by Boston Cab’s app, but I’m going back to using Uber. I like having a clear sense of how long it will take the cab to arrive, not having to enter my destination, and being able to pay auto-magically.

TechStars participants’ funding rolls in

With Boston-based EverTrue collecting $5.25 million in funding recently, the companies that participated in the 2011 TechStars Boston accelerator program have now received more funding than any other graduating class of the program, which also operates in Seattle, Boulder, and New York. The dozen companies of TechStars Boston 2011 have now raised $46 million in aggregate.

2011 was the year that former Microsoft executives Katie Rae and Reed Sturtevant took over stewardship of TechStars Boston, which is based in Kendall Square in Cambridge. The best-funded company of the 2011 crop is GrabCAD, a start-up with offices in Cambridge and Estonia that operates an online community for mechanical engineers. It has raised $13.6 million.

Visit www.boston.com/innovation for the full Innovation Economy blog, updated daily.
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