I’m overly critical of cars and their shocking lack of solid connectivity. Attending car event after car event I praise them for how far they’ve come in a short period of time making allowances for the safety standards that stop them from iterating as quickly as the smartphone industry.
Regardless, I hold cars to the same standards as a smartphone because that’s what the average consumer does. The bar for interaction and usefulness is the smartphone. To be fair, I understand that the smartphone has had over a decade of refinement. Multiple players problem-solving mobility with an aggressive pinch of copycat-ing in there when someone lands on an iterative innovation.
During the Mercedes Benz launch of the CLA in Las Vegas last week I caught myself arguing with an engineer on the showfloor, I might have needed a coffee as I yelled at him saying that the offline capabilities of MBUX were “Dog Shit”. Again, I’m being unfair, a car moves a lot faster than a phone so maintaining proper connectivity is harder, and when our phone is slow to connect in a car, we get why. When our car has trouble connecting it’s flat out unforgivable. A double standard yes, but true never the less.
This is the trump card that I hold in my back pocket whenever I’m discussing connectivity. It doesn’t matter how big the steps forward car makers have made they aren’t on the same level as the smartphone.
When I throw this comment in the face of someone who has worked hard improving an infotainment system, I’m always met with a defeated look and a nod of consent. But I’ve come to realize I’m wrong.
Car companies should not be competing with smartphones, instead, they should find better ways to integrate technology with them. The bar should no longer be that the car works as well as the phone, but that it’s as useful as the ecosystem the smartphone provides.
Car manufacturers are looking to maintain control over the space inside the car by offering you all the services you might need natively. I get it, they don’t want to lose control over selling you services, which is where the real money is in the future. If they give up control of this space to someone else, whatever company that is (hey Google, Alexa or Siri), they will be the gateway to the real monetization.
Look at the smartphone, sure speed, camera and battery life are important, but if you ask people why they are addicted to their handset it’s the apps. No one is addicted to the actual hardware, it’s merely a tool.
Car makers need to learn this lesson from the smartphone industry. Apple is king because it’s selling an ecosystem, Android handset makers don’t benefit from the ecosystem in the same way that Google does.
Creating an ecosystem this late in the game is tough, just ask Cortana how that’s going. But figure out how to play nice with the right ecosystem. Partner, make friends and leverage, this could be the key to winning hearts and eventually wallets.
After CES I have my eye on Alexa and her integration with BMW. Hey Mercedes, you’re winning me over, but I need you to be apart of more.
For now, luxury car makers rely on the car enthusiasts, those who love the handling, speed and build quality of the car. They are selling to their existing base. However, as a long time smartphone reviewer, I can draw parallels. The bulk of smartphone sales today come from nailing features like the camera which if we’re honest is merely a tool for the apps we’re addicted to.
If we look at the future of mobility it’s not about the car it’s about the service. If I ask you how to do you use Uber, you’ll first point to the app before you think about the car. Cars are just pieces of the puzzle, if you want to really look at how to win in the future, it’s not about competing with the smartphone, it’s about embracing it.
The first company that truly figures out how to embrace the ecosystem smartphones enable rather than compete with them will come out on top.