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March 4, 2015

Anticipation Builds for the iCar

Posted by Vikram Meghal (View Profile | View All Posts) at 3:16 AM

Apple's Electric Car Plans: Should Tesla Worry? [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F2EJF6HZCA4]

A couple of weeks ago I came across an interesting technological rumor: that Apple is making plans to build a car. Yes, an iCar. It helps the general buzz that Apple has reportedly been very aggressive in its poaching and hiring of talent from Tesla, the maker of futuristic, battery-powered vehicles. Apple has also made no secret that it wishes to dominate the wearable computing sector, which, if defined widely enough, includes driveable platforms. Even more industry buzz to add fuel to the proverbial fire: Silicon Valley entrepreneur Kyle Vogt's company, Cruise Automation, is expected to begin selling technology that lets cars drive themselves - the first company to do so. All that talk of a Google car and we've been missing some fascinating activity in the space going on right under our noses!

Regardless if any of these rumors are true, let's concentrate on the ramifications of a computer company like Apple designing, manufacturing, and marketing an automobile. The story here isn't about what would most likely be a very sleek frame set on four wheels with a powerful engine to boot. That's a given. Apple always builds cool products. No, the real story here is about software.

We're entering a new era, the Software Age. It's a natural extension of the Information Age that we've been a part of with all its various iterations (1.0, 2.0, etc.). There is perhaps no better place to demonstrate just why and how software will become vital to everything we do than talking about a driveable platform. Hardware is an important part of the equation. But it's subservient to what powers all the systems that are carried within that metal (or carbon-fiber composite) shell. Without the right software, the driveable computing platform of the near-future will be just that: a nice looking shell.

Auto enthusiasts have long had a saying that when it comes to cars, it's what's under the hood that matters. So does the software that powers a driveable. I read a prominent study that predicts connected-car technology is only in its infancy, even though services like General Motors' OnStar system has been around for a couple decades. Indeed, connected car safety systems - services that warn drivers about an impending storm or an impending collision - account for the lion's share of connected car revenues for car companies.

But that's changing. Those back-seat connections are where the big money is going to come from in the near future. Passengers can download movies, music, and more - even checking their social media accounts. By 2020, the study says that connected car entertainment systems will by themselves account for as much as $13 billion in annual revenues.

Now here's the real kicker. That same study found that 80 percent of consumers have either never heard of a connected car or aren't quite sure what the term means. If that's the case, then both technology and automotive companies have a lot of marketing to do. If more consumers begin to understand the benefits of a connected car (a true driveable computer platform), then the sky is the limit.

That's one reason I think the Apple iCar rumor might be true. Apple knows how to market its technology just as effectively as it designs and builds it. It will be a cinch to get consumers very excited about the prospect of driving around in a car built by the world's largest and most well-known corporation - even if it has until now had no experience building cars. After all, it's the software under the hood that's really going to set an iCar apart from its competitors.

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