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SCIENCE AND TECH

5 MIN

There Really Is an Uber for Everything

Nine apps for getting what you want when you want it, from pills for a hangover to driving the kids to school

With a tap of your smartphone, you can magically summon almost any service imaginable – more, at any rate, than you may have imagined. From running your errands to cooking your meals, doing your laundry, parking your car, or picking up your kids from school, there’s an on-demand app to save you time and energy (and maybe even money). Most of these newfangled offerings are inspired by Uber, the widely successful on-demand car service whose innovative business model has spawned a thousand other apps in its likeness. There’s an endless and growing variety of the “Uber for X” for time-starved urban professionals. Here’s a few of the latest you never knew you needed.

On-demand errand running

One of the highest rated delivery services in the United States, Austin-based delivery app Favor  made its debut in Toronto last summer (thoughtfully and graciously rebranding itself as Favour north of the border). Its army of bright blue, tuxedo-shirt "runners" will deliver anything you want to your door in less than an hour (as long as you’re located downtown and it’s not alcohol). In just three clicks, you can have almost every errand run for you, from dropping off your dry cleaning to picking up last-minute party supplies or a 12 pack of 2-ply toilet paper.

To help you get inspired, Favour features a list of suggestions (including many places that don’t ordinarily deliver), such as aspirin for your hangover, a Walmart umbrella for an unexpected downpour, the dog food you forgot for Rover, earbud essentials from the Apple Store, and a selection of daily specials from trendy eateries with infamous long lines (such as Grand Electric in Toronto).  

Favour “runners” are in constant and instant communication with customers by text message. They’ll keep you updated on approximate wait times, and if the item you want turns out to be unavailable, they’ll even message you with possible alternatives. Favour charges a flat rate of $6 per delivery plus 5% of the cost of the item(s) delivered. In addition to Toronto the app is currently available in 17 U.S. cities including Boston/Cambridge and Washington.

On-demand food and booze

If you’re craving a three-course Japanese meal or a gourmet steak but can't be bothered to leave the comforts of home, Foodora will bring you dishes from popular and upmarket restaurants (that normally don’t deliver) in less than 30 minutes. The German-based service recently launched in Toronto, re-branding the popular Toronto bike courier, Hurrier. Foodora is focussing on quality local restaurants and expanded ordering options, including more upscale haunts like the Drake Hotel and Playa Cabana. With restaurant partners footing a commission for every order, customers only need to cover a flat $3.50 delivery fee.

Toronto is also the most recent addition for the food-ordering app, UberEats, which is already available in 12 other cities including New York, Chicago and Washington. You can order from local restaurants in the same fast and efficient way you order wheels, tracking your meal from the moment you tap your smartphone until it arrives at your door (give it about half an hour). If you have trouble deciding what you want, just browse through the 10 most popular items by restaurant menu. The app also offers daily “Instant Delivery” dishes that arrive in as little as 5 to 10 minutes from placing your order.

A new breed of food delivery is trending as well from the West Coast, with startups dishing up locally sourced, high-end meals prepared by their own chefs. Last year, San Francisco based Munchery launched in New York with a stellar team of chefs from Michelin-starred restaurants including Le Bernardin, Daniel and Tavern on the Green. The average cost of a delivered entrée is a pretty reasonable $10-$13, with the added bonus that Munchery makes a matching donation to a local food charity. You can choose from more than 300 creative daily dishes to heat-up in the microwave or oven.

And for your imbibing and party-throwing convenience, New York-based alcohol delivery service Thirstie just launched in Toronto and Ottawa. In addition to browsing through vetted recipes and the latest topics in drinking culture, you can select from an impressive selection of beer, wine, and spirits to arrive at your doorstep in an hour or less. The door-to-door service comes with a $9 delivery fee.

On-demand laundry and dry cleaning

Your days of standing in line at the dry cleaners or waiting for the spin cycle to finish may finally be numbered. Washio is the leading on-demand laundry and dry cleaning app in the States. A “ninja” will pick-up your clothes in 30 minutes or less and return them freshly laundered the very next day.

Backed by Hollywood techies including Ashton Kutcher, Nas, Scooter Braun and Calvin Harris, the West Coast-based app is serving up clean clothes in Chicago, Boston, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland, with more cities coming soon.

Courtesy Washio

On-demand shipping and packaging

Forget about braving the lines at the post office. The on-demand shipping service, Shyp, will not only pick up your packages, but pack them up and gift-wrap them too. A courier will show up within 20 minutes and deliver your item to the Shyp warehouse to be packed-up and shipped-off via the most economical option.

Shyp’s $5 pickup fee includes packaging, whether you're sending a paperback book or a coffee table. And because they negotiate bulk discount rates with carriers like FedEx and UPS, the service often ends up costing less than doing it yourself. The app is currently available in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

On-demand mobile childcare and school carpooling

While Urbansitter and Toronto-based DateNight are connecting parents with local, vetted babysitters, Zum is taking it on the road. The on-demand ride and care service for kids aged five to 15 recently launched in beta. Through the app, parents can summon a driver for their kids as easily as an Uber ride. In addition to seeing their driver’s background details, photos and reviews, they’ll be able to track the car's location and receive notifications when their child is picked up and dropped off.

A self-learning algorithm pairs drivers with families based on their compatibility. Zum drivers must be over 21 with at least three years of driving experience, a clean driving record and background check, as well as previous childcare experience. To encourage kids and drivers to get to know one another, families are assigned with a small rotating pool of up to six caregivers (who charge by the ride). Zum plans to expand throughout the Bay Area and then launch in 14 other cities, including New York, Chicago and Washington.

On-demand parking

Stop circling the block for a parking spot and get yourself a Luxe Valet. The multi-faceted app uses GPS to deliver a personal valet who will park your car and then return it to you when you’re ready to go. Luxe tracks your phone as you make your way to your destination, so that a valet (who navigates the streets on a skateboard) magically shows up when and where you need him. In addition to saving time, you can use the app to avoid hassles like hauling strollers, walking that extra block in heels, or parking in a dark lot at night.

Luxe also offers additional services such as washing your car, changing you oil, and filling up at the gas station. And the service can actually end up costing you less than a parking spot, because Luxe negotiates discount rates with underused parking garages. Luxe is expanding, but for now you can use the app in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Austin.

On-demand anything and everything

Operator wants to be the way you buy everything. Uber co-founder Garrett Camp  (who also happens to be Canadian-born) is launching a sleek get-me-anything personal shopping app. You’ll be able to text “operators” for anything your heart desires, from sold-out concert tickets to the perfect sofa for your living room or those favourite pair of jeans that were discontinued. Once you’ve messaged in your request, a human operator will do the research and grunt work to find the best possible solutions for your problem. After they present you with the options, they’ll place whatever phone calls or orders necessary to make it happen.

The added value of using the app will be access to a network of experts. Through a combination of algorithms, consumers will be connected with both operators and retail workers to help them shop. Operators will be matched with requests based on their expertise in certain product categories and affiliations with brands or stores. It will almost be like having Siri as your personal shopper, but with a real person on the other end.

Published Monday, March 14th 2016

Header image credit: Favor/Favour's delivery people will bring you anything, from headache pills to, apparently, a giant bow tie. Courtesy Favour

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