I originally published a version of this post in June 2016. This update, with the recent news, further confirms some of the assumptions I made back then.
The tweet above confirms something we’re all quite aware of, which is that there is still a lot to do before we get self driving cars onto our roads. But why is this the case? Aren’t these companies the ones with the technical know how and unlimited resources required to make our self-driving car fantasies reality? Well, it turns out there are three technical issues making this difficult.
Barring a horrible spate of autopilot accidents the self-driving car movement will continue in full swing. The technology is improving at pace with Elon Musk declaring that “worldwide regulatory approval will require something on the order of 6 billion miles (10 billion km). Current fleet learning is happening at just over 3 million miles (5 million km) per day.” Every single one of the big technology and automobile players is plowing money and brainpower into being the company that ushers us into this utopian future where there will be zero vehicular accidents caused by human behind the wheel errors. But making this happen is proving more difficult than the companies expected.
My first question here is why did these software first companies assume that they could just turn around and build cars? And why have we all assumed all that matters in this push is the actual development of the hardware/self-driving car? We forget there are a lot of aspects to the technology that is required to make that future happen. It’s never made sense that these companies would build cars.
There have been some mind-blowing advances in the component technologies required to build a self-driving car.
So what is the best strategy for a tech/software company that hasn’t traditionally built cars?
Like Microsoft/Cortana for Nissan and BMW and Waymo/Google with Honda the best approach for a software DNA company is to build the operating system for autonomous cars. And it’s what Apple is doing. Apple is building the autonomous car Operating System (OS) based on the iPhone/Apple Watch as the original portable telematic device: knowing where a car is, what condition it’s in and recording that information to make better decisions is something that will be required in every autonomous car. We all know our iPhones are already personal telematic devices (I hope you do). The phone tracks your location and your health (see images below). There are two elements to autonomous driving software, maps and driving data. Building a CarOS, for Apple, would be a natural extension of the maps and health software that is currently being captured as you and I navigate the world.
Becoming the CarOS is the most strategically adjacent move Apple can make. Why would a company ignore it’s most sold asset, surpassing 1Bn iPhones sold this past week, to focus on a product that is capital intensive and not its core competence? Why would Apple enter a space where the most talked about company in the space is one that has not delivered more than 250k cars? Yes, the orders for the Tesla Model 3 has broken records for EVs sold but the real work will be in delivering those cars and that will be interesting to watch.
As we move into a future where fewer people will actually own cars but people will continue to buy iPhones I do not expect Apple to move away from what is working for it.
Imagine an OS that enables any brand of autonomous car to work with the telematic system that is on the riders iPhone? Seamlessly.
A standard autonomous CarOS on your iPhone will improve routing and getting a car to you regardless of the cab/car service you choose to use — the autonomous Uber cab app will most likely only work with Uber cars — and improve customer service since you’ll get the closest available car/cab regardless of the autonomous car service provider.
Apple is learning from the best engineers in this new industry so that it can do to the industry exactly what it did to the music industry with iTunes. An CarOS will iTunes the industry by
If we accept that Apple cares about design and understands the customer then an autonomous car, with all it’s inherent business risks, is the wrong strategy. Something else I know about Apple is that the company is too smart to continue to cede leadership in the battle for the future. A future being defined by Amazon (Alexa), Alphabet and Facebook (Oculus etc). A CarOS for the autonomous future of the vehicle and (the connected home) makes so much sense for Apple. It’s the only low-investment, do-what-you’re-good-at strategy Apple, and the other big tech companies, can take. The technology for Autonomy will become a commodity. Key question for the tech companies is, who will get there first with a robust enough operating system that the car companies will have to depend on?
Conclusion: I believe we will end up 3–4 platforms/OS and the traditional car manufacturers will select which autonomous software provider they will partner with. And it’s another compelling reason why Apple might buy Tesla…
You might like this other article on Apple
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