What it is: The Apple Car is coming. It’s just a matter of when it will appear and what it will offer.
At one time, Palm Computing dominated the handheld computer market and had transitioned into the smartphone market. When heh hard rumors of Apple releasing a smartphone, Palm’s CEO, Ed Collegan, said, “We’ve learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone. PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They’re not going to just walk in.”
Then Apple introduced the iPhone, killed all the current leaders (Blackberry, Nokia, and Palm). The problem wasn’t that the smartphone leaders weren’t competent. The problem was that they were competent in the wrong area.
Back in the early days of smartphones, all people really wanted was to make calls and send text messages. What smartphone leaders didn’t think about was how to make smartphones more capable like miniature computers you could carry around in your pocket. That meant browsing the Internet, running apps, and playing games.
The existing smartphones could do that, but not easily. So when the iPhone appeared, it offered strengths in areas that rivals couldn’t match. Then rivals failed.
Now look at the automotive industry. Car makers are trying to turn cars starters with computers. Computer companies are trying to create smart cars. Who’s going to win?
Most likely the car companies will stick to their strengths, which is creating the mechanical features of the car, and see computers as just an accessory to the car. On the other hand, computer companies like Apple, Google, and even Tesla, will see cars as a computer on wheels. That means they’ll focus on the computer first and the car mechanics second. That means computer companies will likely create useful computers for cars while car companies will create car improvements with better computers.
Eventually that means the car companies will stick to their strengths and wind up missing the boat on the future just like Palm Computing, Nokia, and Blackberry missed the boat on smartphones. Nokia and Blackberry tried to make better smartphones based on the existing smartphone model. Apple tried to make a better smartphone based on what they wanted, not what was currently existing.
When you base your future on the past, you’ll stay hampered by the past. That’s where Palm, Nokia, and Blackberry made a mistake and that’s where existing car companies risk making the same mistake as well. There’s no need for fuel injection technology in tomorrow’s smart cars that run on electricity, yet that’s a strength and burden that existing car manufacturers will have to deal with.
The problem isn’t that car companies can’t stay relevant in the next century, but that their focus risks keeping them from reaching their full potential. If you stay focused on the past, eventually you’ll be leapfrogged by someone embracing the future. Horse and buggy makers could have made the transition to cars, but they didn’t. That’s because they clung to their horse and buggy technology for too long instead. Kodak should have been a leader in digital photography, but they clung to their strength in film for too long.
The past can be a hindrance, and that’s the risk car makers have to deal with. Since companies in other industries have failed to do this, it’s likely car makers will make the same mistake, which means if you want to see the future of cars, look at the computer companies. The future is brighter when you’re not burdened by the past.