In recent days we've seen a lot of chatter about the merging of smartphone and automobile, an idea that will see many folks reflexively hit the "No" button.
First, there are reports that Apple Inc.'s upcoming iOS 7 will allow auto makers to plug-in more phone features to their vehicles. On its face, ho-hum: ports and Bluetooth connectors that control music features and hands-free calling on smartphones have been around for years; no one exploded with glee when GM began pumping a button on the wheel that lets you access Siri hands free for an upcoming Chevy; what else is there?
The new features are reputed to take advantage of the embedded console screens many new vehicles are shipping with, for such uses as a takeover by Apple Maps for its turn-by-turn directions. While folks who tuned out after the initial Apple Maps fiasco (bad data, crappy search, bad directions) may be horrified at the idea, this isn't the worst thing in the world. Certainly, if Apple is capable of doing this, Google's Android is right behind, and who knows, maybe even Microsoft.
But for Bloomberg contributor and tech investor/entrepeneur Chamath Palihapitiya, this is all weak sauce. He thinks Apple should build its own car, not just make apps and connections with other auto makers. He bemoans Apple's alleged post-Steve-Jobs lack of vision and ties up CEO Tim Cook's latest financial moves into his gripe: "I for one would buy an iCar. Too bad Apple would rather sell me a watch. Or a bond."
He even suggests a sort of reverse re-invention fix, where Apple would buy the electric sports-car company Tesla, and appoint its Tony-Starkish CEO Elon Musk to lead the combined entity. Presumably, Mr. Musk's space fascination would come along for the ride, and at a decent interval we could tell Siri to load the iCar into our iRocket and blast off for a race on the surface of the moon.
But I digress. Mr. Palihapitiya isn't alone in thinking that a convergence of cars and personal computing tech is at hand. Peter Nowak, writing in Canadian Business, found we've already run into a rather mundane concern at the centre of the car-phone melding point: How do you pay for a data plan for your minivan?
He spoke to Sebastien Marineau-Mes, who came from the in-car computing system subsidiary QNX to become Research In Motion's senior vice-president of software, about whether we'll be swapping SIM cards into the dashboard of future vehicles, or if we can just build the cost of a wireless plan into the lot price of your new Honda or Ford. Either way, things are fairly advanced if what we're left to worry about is billing.
A smartphone on wheels would be a change in the way we drive, but is it really a revolution?
I feel compelled to point out that all these iCar futurists are really talking about is adding existing communication, navigation and data managing features to cars. What they are not doing is suggesting a competing program to the true innovator in the personal transportation space: Google's self-driving car program.
If Google gets it right, then we won't have to worry about hands-free features and distracting in-console screens -- the car will take care of that tedious commute home or trip to Grandma's house ... leaving your hands free to futz with your iPhone.