More and more people are talking about cars that drive themselves, without a driver, and how the giants of world tech are working on them. We read about how Google and Apple are secretly working on the vehicles of the future that will revolutionize – and bring down – the automotive industry as we know it today. The most attentive and passionate probably happened to read about how Apple has hired many engineers stealing them from Tesla to work on a mysterious Apple Car unleashing the wrath of Tesla CEO Elon Musk who, during his visit to Berlin shortly after the Volkswagen scandal, he said in an interview:
and then retract shortly afterwards on Twitter even expressing joy at the fact that Apple was developing an electric car.
While the attention of many is focused on a still relatively distant future, the battle between the automotive industry and the digital industry for those who will control our cars, those of the present for instance, has already been decided.
Some car manufacturers have started to support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the two entertainment systems – and not only – developed by Apple and Google to make us feel at home even when we are in the car. Among the supporters, more or less voluntary, are many global brands: Audi, Alfa Romeo, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Citroën, Dodge, DS Automobiles, Ferrari, Fiat, GMC, Honda, Hyundai, Jeep, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Opel, Porsche, Peugeot, Seat, Škoda, Suzuki, Volkswagen and Volvo, just to name a few. To these will be added, the announcement is of the last weeks, from 2017 also BMW and Ford. Practically all of them.
Apple and Google have been able to demonstrate their ability to develop easy and intuitive interfaces that millions and millions of consumers use every day: that of our smartphones. On the other hand, car makers have never been able to design a user interface that is truly intuitive or a voice recognition that is truly equal to the various Siri or Google Now.
It is not uncommon, for example, that I find myself using the Tom Tom application on the iPhone instead of my car’s navigator, because it is more practical to configure, placing my phone on the dashboard to get me to my destination. Many use Google Maps, for example, as a replacement for the navigator, enjoying real-time traffic information even in older cars.
The real battle cannot be on the interface: the manufacturers have already lost this one at the start. The real battle is on the adoption of Google and Apple systems. As car manufacturers, forced by increasingly demanding customers, begin to adopt the systems of the Silicon Valley giants, they also gradually relinquish control of the vehicle. And if so at the beginning CarPlay and Android Auto allowed mainly to change radio station or make some phone calls, today they go so far as to ask manufacturers to give them control of heating, tire pressure and all those other advanced features for the control of the vehicle. So car manufacturers are gradually becoming more and more mere hardware manufacturers, in a world where software makes the difference.
If even Apple or Google do not launch a car of their own on the market, it will most likely still be normal for millions of consumers to say “Google OK, take me home”, “Siri, turn on the air conditioning”.