Coffee Today, Everything Tomorrow

Starbucks is introducing mobile ordering and delivery, the latest step in a rapid shift toward an on-demand future.

Starbucks customers across the country will, by the end of the year, be able to order and pay for coffee from their smartphones before they set foot in a store, the company announced this week. The coffee chain is also beginning to test a delivery program that could keep customers out of their stores altogether.

In the era of Uber and same-day delivery from Amazon and Google Express, Starbucks delivery is, as the company said, "a natural extension" of its business. People increasingly expect they’ll be able to make the things they want materialize with the press of a button on their smartphones. Starbucks isn't the only company thinking this way. And though its delivery partner is a startup called Postmates, the Starbucks shift toward on-demand coffee hints at what the next iteration of Uber might be.

After all, one of Uber's great strengths is the size and distribution of its network of drivers. They're already delivering people from Point A to Point B; why not deliver things, too?

Uber has already dabbled in this space. In cities across the United States, it has experimented with courier services and delivery of household items—shampoo, a bag of chips, the kind of stuff you'd pick up at a pharmacy. In China, it tested a cargo delivery service to transport goods across Hong Kong. "We are evolving the way the world moves," Uber wrote in a job listing for an initiative it's calling Uber Everything. "This is a unique role, in which you will lead impactful product-centric partnerships... We’re not just another social web app, we’re moving real people and assets and reinventing transportation and logistics globally."

And Starbucks has a similar logistical advantage to Uber: Both companies have stitched themselves into the existing landscape of their customers' lives. Both rely on networks that prioritize availability—a latte, or a ride is available within minutes, no matter which city street you're on. And that kind of service isn't a fad. It is, for the companies that know how to leverage their ubiquity, the future.