The Apple of China is a hit in the US with electric scooters

A Bird scooter, by Xiaomi.
A Bird scooter, by Xiaomi.
Image: Bird
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Who would have thought that Xiaomi, the so-called Apple of China, would have a breakout hit in the US with electric scooters?

Xiaomi, one of the world’s largest smartphone manufacturers, has emerged as a leading supplier of scooters for Silicon Valley transit startups. Rebranded Xiaomi scooters have been deployed across US cities by scooter unicorn Bird, which in May reportedly locked in Xiaomi for tens of millions of dollars as one of its vendors. Xiaomi scooters have also been used by Spin, a Bird competitor. It’s as though Apple went to China and became a sensation for its AirPods.

The other major scooter-maker is Segway/Ninebot (it supplies for Lime), which has a close relationship with Xiaomi and counts it as a backer. Xiaomi couldn’t be reached for comment to clarify the relationship.

Xiaomi had a lackluster debut on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange on Monday (July 9), closing at HK$16.78 (a bit more than $2), below its list price of HK$17. The company’s IPO inauspiciously coincided with the start of a massive trade war between China and the US, with tariffs on $34 billion in goods, including scooters.

Xiaomi doesn’t currently sell smartphones in the US, though it said in March that it could enter the market by late 2018 or early 2019. That would pit it against established US smartphone brands like Apple and Samsung, and other more affordable Chinese imports, like OnePlus.

It could also subject Xiaomi to the sort of espionage concerns that kept Chinese telecoms company Huawei out of the US for years, and reportedly torpedoed a deal between Huawei and AT&T earlier this year. The US intelligence community has specifically warned against using Huawei phones.

On the other hand, scooters aren’t smartphones. We don’t use them to make phone calls and send emails and texts (at least, not yet!). They do gather some information: Bird, per its privacy agreement, collects things like payment information, user account details, and communications with customer service through its app, as well as battery status and location from the actual scooter.

That’s not nothing, but it seems fair to say that no one is worried about espionage via scooter.