One of the least secretive secrets in recent years is that Apple is working on a car. What kind of car only Apple knows but everyone in the automobile manufacturing industry seems to think the future is driverless vehicles, whether cars or trucks.
Driverless vehicles? I don’t think so. Why not? Think of Siri behind the wheel. Or, Microsoft’s Cortana, or Amazon’s Alexa as the voice activated, artificial intelligence driver that takes you wherever you want to go in a vehicle you don’t own, but only rent for the ride. That’s exactly what many in the industry think is the not-too-distant future.
‘Siri, Take Me To A Bar’
It’s not as if designing an iPhone is easy, but those in the know seem to think that building a semi-autonomous vehicle these days is difficult. Very difficult. It’s not as if Apple doesn’t have the money to bring something to the driving table. $200-billion in the bank is an incentive to do anything imaginable, up to and including a space ship, or a fleet of autonomous cars, or even buy France.
Wait. Fleet of autonomous cars? And trucks? That’s where the future gets interesting. With 24 hours in a day, how much driving– actual driving through traffic to work, school, the mall, or a trip– do you do, on average, each day? Some research indicates that we use our cars perhaps 15-percent of the time during ownership, which leaves them sitting in the garage or on a street the rest of the time. Do the math. That’s 1,440 minutes of vehicle ownership per day, vs. 216 minutes of actual driving per day (about 3.5-hours at 15-percent).
What if you could hail a ride within minutes; a talking, driving, artificial intelligence-equipped mostly autonomous ride– that would cost far less than a taxi on a per trip basis– to get you where you need to go?
What will it be? Siri? Cortana? Alexis? Google Now? All four? Or, something designed by automobile manufacturers instead? Whatever name it uses, the vehicles so-called driver will be able to communicate with you; perhaps inform and entertain, while you are driven as opposed to while you drive.
Apparently, building a new car from the ground up is a difficult, expensive proposition, and the most recent example of long and arduous success appears to be Tesla. The electric car company’s market capitalization is about $40-billion so Apple could swoop it up and not blink a financial eye. Tesla is that affordable. Unlike Google, Apple does not seem to have had the same success as Google in partnering with other vehicle manufacturers. Apple is a hardware company that differentiates via software, so I can understand why our favorite iPhone maker would venture into the competitive world of vehicle manufacturing.
What’s Google’s game?
Well, what does Google do? It makes money by selling advertising. Revenue and profits, to the tune of about 90-percent or so, come the old fashioned way. Advertising. And ads mean tracking, and that’s why so much Google software is free to use. You’re not one of Google’s customers when you use Gmail or Chrome. You’re part of the product. Google tracks you relentlessly online and makes money for its effort. Lots of money.
So, when it comes to autonomous vehicles of the future, Google will remain in the tracking business, perhaps providing passengers with information and entertainment during the ride; tracking what you view, tracking what you say, and keeping a personal dossier on your every move and thought.
What about Siri and others who provide an interface to robotic-like devices and artificial intelligence? That’s where it gets interesting. What we see so far is that Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon are less interested in manufacturing vehicles of the future as they are in providing the interface to future transportation, whether in the driver’s seat or just inside, helping out.
Personally, I don’t think we’ll see an Apple Car, but we will see Siri in the driver’s seat.