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Am I missing something? Apple and Automobiles?

I admit it…I am a crusty old guy who has been around automobiles for the better part of six decades…pretty sure I knew it all.  But then things changed…in 2010 Google decided they want to create a self-driving car.  And now we are learning that Apple, with their huge pile of cash, wants to produce a vehicle. 

We all are fully aware of the encroachment of one industry on another.  Technology is crucial for automobiles to thrive.  We all know that the lion’s share of innovation comes from software that manages the vehicles operation; innovation in the arena of components is becoming less frequent.  But the technology kings building cars?  Google piloting ugly autonomous vehicles today, Apple producing an EV by 2020; it is just too much to consider rationally.

But let’s put aside all of the if’s, ands, but’s, when’s, maybe’s and simply ponder on the why?

It can’t be that Apple with the largest market cap in the world wants to participate in an industry that has low margins, tremendous and onerous compliance burdens, and is always the subject of intense scrutiny.  They would have to know how to design and build cars from scratch and equally important, how to sell and service them in the traditional and accepted manner customers have come to depend on. 

I think it becomes clear when you think about it.  Connected devices are the fabric and foundation of today’s society.  Connected devices and connections are ubiquitous.  IOS and Android are the life force of today. They really do contribute to the seamless kind of life the world seems to want, well a lot of the world anyway.

Think about the vehicle for a minute…and the clumsy computing that is included in today’s vehicles and yet touted as innovative.  And recall the defection from connectivity with OnStar and the struggles and reinventions of Ford Sync.  In vehicle technology is indeed an orphan in today’s world. 

I agree that the motive of Apple may be less about building vehicles and much more about creating the anchor technology in the vehicle that further contributes to influencing that seamless kind of life.  I fully believe that they are pushing only to open eyes and minds…sometimes extreme measures and, indeed, risks are necessary to affect change.

And from the automobile manufacturer’s side, there is certainly reluctance.  Giving up absolute control is not a normal or accepted behavior. A lot of arguments abide here, from risk avoidance to brand differentiation to compliance matters.  All of these arguments are reasonable but not necessarily road blocks.

I believe that Apple wants to make the point that the always connected seamless kind of life they espouse needs to extend to the automobile and the driving experience.  Think about the possible upside to that.  Could IOS be the anchor of not only in vehicle connectivity but indeed the anchor of the entire automotive bus?  I don’t know…but think about the integration capabilities brought to the table!  Could we be on the verge of an upgradable in-car interface?   One that is infinitely upgradable and modifiable? And what impact might that have on the design innovation and manufacturing cycle, indeed the entire industry?

Sure it is a lot to consider for an old guy.  The OEMs want exclusive control, the technology companies want in.  Seems like the conflict is over the wrong things…harmony is the key.  Connectivity will bring about a “seamless kind of life”…it is inevitable.  Apple is simply forcing the point into yet another facet of living, the automobile and transportation!

For further commentary on where the “connected vehicle” is heading and what roles they might play in our lives please join us on the Future of Business on Game Changers Radio sponsored by SAP.  Our connected car program will air is March.  This link will take you to the schedule as well as recordings of past programs.

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