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How Apple & Google Can Change the Automotive Industry (and how we drive, too)

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Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page. Topics:  Apple, Google

How Apple & Google Can Change the Automotive Industry (and how we drive, too)

Bill Crittenden
September 23, 2015

Google's self-driving bubble has been freaking out petrolheads since it was unveiled, and now Apple is hinting at making their own car.

The Google bubble isn't so much a finished product as a technology test bed. Think of the "safety cars" from the 1970's, whose odd space-age designs were profoundly ugly but some of their features were incorporated into traditionally styled vehicles.

Google isn't going to make a billion self-driving bubbles and then take your Mustang away, but Google will make sure that the 2030 Mustang has autopilot so that you can take yourself home if drunk or too tired, or drive yourself to the hospital if injured.

Apple can build a car. It's not as difficult as many people think it is. Which is, it doesn't have to be done from scratch. They literally do not have to reinvent the wheel, as most parts and components can come off-the-shelf from manufacturers who specialize in certain components.

Perhaps you've heard of Takata recently, and been surprised at just how many cars carry Takata's airbags? You can also source them from Autoliv. Apple can buy seats from Lear, wiring harnesses from Yazaki, windows from Pilkington, chassis from Magna, transmissions from ZF, and engines from any automaker that they can make a deal with (Hyundai got its start using Mitsubishi engines until the 1990's).

Heck, neither Apple nor Google invented the touchscreen, telephone, or integrated circuit. But they put them together and make them work in ways we had only seen before on Star Trek.

Where cars are changing most dramatically nowadays are in the electronics anyway, and Apple & Google understand how to innovate and create features you didn't even know you needed in these sectors. How about overlaying a weather radar over the navigation system map? An alert to tell you when it'll rain in 5 minutes when you have the convertible top down? How about a car that will pull itself over if your FitBit tells it that you've fallen asleep or drives you to the hospital if it detects that you're having a heart attack? How about FitBit-like tracking for your fuel economy and vehicle maintenance?

What about integrating a built-in dashcam that saves right into your phone's video memory? Maybe even using front and rear by dual-purposing the back-up camera?

Also, by making the automobile electronics system an interface for a smartphone, as Apple's CarPlay does, it ensures that the car will get more advanced as the smartphones are replaced. It's easy to replace a $600 smartphone on a 2-year plan but it's a bit harder to replace a $30,000 car. Imagine being stuck with a cell phone as old as your car. Mine's a 2003. Now imagine your car's electronics system gaining new features and capabilities every 2 years when you trade in your iPhone.

Or maybe you'll get new features every 6 months when a new operating system version comes out. How would you like to get to your garage in the morning and see that your car used your wifi to update when you were sleeping and it gave you a more efficient fuel map, upgraded the security, fixed that annoying bug in the weather warning system and gave you a few new radio functions?

I know a lot of greasy-knuckled car guys internally scream "nnnnneeeeeerrrrrrrdddd!!!" like Ogre in Revenge of the Nerds when they see the likes of Bill Gates or Tim Cook, but there's no reason to feel threatened. Cars will still be made of steel & bearing grease, and new functions will integrate with the old machinery as seamlessly as fuel injection, dual-zone climate control and satellite navigation have in generations past.

As for styling, if Apple does piece together its own whole car we can expect a style that will be simple and elegant and as "science fiction come to life" as the iPhone was next to the flip phones it replaced. I can't wait to see what they come up with.

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