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East meets West as Uber offers smartphone delivery

Xiaomi's and Uber's staggering popularity on opposite ends of the world makes for an alluring partnership.

Mary Altaffer/AP/File
Uber customers in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore will be able to buy Xiaomi smartphones for instant-deliver starting next week.

Would you buy an Android smartphone if it were Ubered to you? 

That’s what Xiaomi, China's largest smartphone maker, is hoping. The electronics giant launched a partnership Thursday with popular ride-hailing app Uber that will allow consumers to purchase the Mi Note smartphone “within a few minutes,” according to a statement from Xiaomi.

The couriering will begin on Monday in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Currently, the companies don’t have plans to expand this service to other cities.

“Ordering a Mi Note follows the exact same process as calling for an Uber – users simply open the Uber app, use the slider at the bottom of the screen to select ‘Xiaomi,’” the statement reads. “Payment will be charged directly to the credit card tied to a rider’s Uber account and a Mi Note will be delivered to the user within a few minutes.”

Uber users will also be able to order the Mi Note in a “flash sale” 24 hours before the service's launch on the company’s official website. 

Xiaomi and Uber are both wildly popular tech companies on opposite sides of the world, making for an alluring partnership.

Uber is one of the world’s trendiest and most valuable startups, with an estimated valuation of $50 billion. A report released by the company in December said that it had more than 162,000 “active drivers,” and the number of new driver sign-ups had doubled every six months over the past two years.

As Uber upends traditional hackney business models, the company continues to face resistance in many countries. Uber is now looking to establish a market in China, particularly with the help of politically connected partners, reports The Wall Street Journal.

Xiaomi, a brand still relatively unknown outside of Asia, is valued at $46 billion and has grown at a formidable rate since launching just five years ago. A report released Thursday by the International Data Corporation put Xiaomi in spot no. 4 among the world’s largest smartphone manufacturers, and the company’s leader has his sights set on further international expansion, including to the US and Brazil.

“Xiaomi’s mission is to change the world’s view of Chinese products,” CEO Lei Jun told The Wall Street Journal. “I had a dream when I was young to found a global, first-rate company.”

Whether this new partnership will contribute to his goals remains to be seen. Progress of Uber’s other delivery ventures has been disappointing. Earlier in the year, the company canceled UberEssentials, an add-on service that delivered household items to users in DC. Last month, the Journal reported that a food delivery service launched last year called UberEats fell behind competitors like the Postmates app, with drivers sometimes having “so few customers that drivers have to throw away food at day’s end."

But some say Xiaomi’s tie to Uber could go a long way in building brand recognition for them both.

“Sure, it’s a publicity stunt,” wrote the Journal’s Eva Dou. “But it’s a clever one, and an exercise in testing the limits of convenience.” 

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