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Are automobiles the next mobile app platform?

Is the car the next mobile app platform? Considering the moves that have been made by companies like Apple and Google, and it very well could be. Matthew David examines the trend.

More than 10 million cars are sold every year in the U.S. Central consoles that augment your car experience have...

been commonplace for several years. GM has OnStar, Ford has Sync and Honda has HondaLync. The focus of these tools has been infotainment and GPS navigation. These connected car technologies are slow, clunky and slow to update. These are the key criteria for an industry that is about to be disrupted.

Let's look at three companies that will overtake the automobile industry by turning the car into a mobile app platform: Tesla, Google and Apple.

Tesla leads the pack

GM outsells Tesla 10:1. There is no competition today. But Nokia said the same thing about Apple in 2010. Each vehicle that Tesla releases is crowned with award after award. The reaction Tesla owners have to their vehicles is similar to religious ardor. A key element of Tesla's dominance is that the company sees the car as another mobile app platform that can be updated via software. In a recent update, Tesla owners received overnight an update that activates hands-free driving.

Tesla is moving aggressively toward having a car priced at $45,000. This is a magic price point for auto sales because it brings Tesla into the mass consumer sales market. In many ways, the future of the smart car is coming from what Tesla releases.

Google's self-driving cars and Android Auto

Google is following two paths on the road to smart car domination: self-driving cars and Android Auto.

The self-driving Google car has received a lot of press. The odd-looking car does not have a driving wheel, brake, accelerator or stick shift. Indeed, there is no human driver. This is a truly 100% self-driving vehicle. Google has not yet released its plans for the car.

Android Auto is a version of Android that car and stereo manufacturers can use for in-car infotainment systems. The reason a car company would want to use Android Auto is consistency. Today's infotainment systems often run very different core operating systems, such as BlackBerry's QNX, that are expensive and difficult to develop. Android Auto uses Android OS, which makes it easier to port apps to a car environment.

Apple's CarPlay and a secret project

Apple's entrant is CarPlay. More than 40 auto manufacturers have committed to CarPlay. Essentially, CarPlay is a way to integrate your iPhone more easily with a car. There are dedicated apps, but the CarPlay experience is, in this regard, similar to the Apple Watch experience.

The focus has been on the secret project Apple is working on. Apple will enter the car industry with its car as soon as 2020. It is not easy to build and manufacture a car. It might be better if Apple just buys Tesla. Each of these companies is focusing on electric cars that can be self-driven, a common thread that goes against the old, gas powered, combustion engines coming out of Detroit. The next mobile app platform you develop for will likely be your car.

Next Steps

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This was last published in December 2015

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