Felix Salmon sees Uber’s international reach as its key advantage:
This might not be obvious to people in San Francisco, who are spoiled with dozens of hopeful and well-funded startups, many of which are doing much the same thing that Uber is aspiring to. But leave the Bay Area, and the fears and frustrations of trying to get a cab start getting magnified — especially when you’re in a foreign country. The value of Uber is only partially in the service it provides; increasingly, it’s also in the global ubiquity of that service.
I just got back from Rome; I took a standard white cab from the airport, and then took an Uber back to it. The Uber was much a much more pleasant ride, as well as being cheaper. But most importantly, it came without any of the anxieties that generally accompany getting into a stranger’s car in a foreign country. Such anxieties are generally small, in a country like Italy, but even the locals will warn you against hailing a cab in a place like Mexico City.
He remarks that Uber is “the first app which can deliver a three-ton glass-and-steel machine to wherever you happen to be, in any of 200 cities around the world, in minutes”
That’s why Uber’s bulls think of it as a logistics company rather than a taxi company: it’s fundamentally about being able to move things (initially passengers, but that’s already expanding), within city boundaries, with unprecedented levels of efficiency. Most impressively, Uber has managed to do this within a single app: it doesn’t have a different version for every country that it’s in. Anybody with an Uber account, no matter where they’re from, can automatically use Uber in any city in the world where Uber operates. This is non-trivial, and not at all easy to replicate.