How Consumer Technology Parallels the Automotive Industry

Being the fan of technology I am, it’s hard not to see a connection between the consumer tech world and virtually every other industry out there. The automotive industry is no different. The more I look into the parallels that exist between these two seemingly independent entities, the more I’m convinced that these two forces of commerce are very connected.

Taking a look at the trends, impact of economy, and technologies being used in these spaces makes it difficult to see much of a difference, actually. Yes, cars and cellphones don’t exactly appear to be the most similar of products, but let’s break this down a bit.

New Designs Tempt People to Buy Regardless of Innovation Slowdown

How Consumer Technology Parallels the Automotive IndustryThe folks in Detroit learned long ago that changing a minor physical detail on a car from year to year (though not much else actually changed under the hood) makes last year’s models look old and this year’s cars look new and improved. The gas mileage, torque, and interior may be exactly the same with nothing more than a new bend or fold in the frame separating one year’s model from another. Still, this doesn’t discourage people from dropping top dollar to get the latest and greatest vehicle on the lot.

That isn’t to say that innovation is at a standstill, but frankly, innovation in the automobile industry is much more subtle than it is in the tech industry. You won’t notice a new gasket design or ingredient added to the protective finish used on the dashboard, but you will notice a new color or a spoiler that didn’t exist on previous models.

My Prius, for example, looks the exact same as every Prius made over a span of something like five years. Because of this, it’s easy to overlook the vast improvements made to the hybrid system that drives the car. It isn’t until a new exterior look came out that I believed improvements were actually made.

So, when people look at something like an iPhone 4 and 4S, they’re not seeing much of a difference despite some very big improvements having actually been made to the camera, processor, and the addition of Siri.

Economic Factors

Do you remember when the car industry was in real trouble because gas-guzzling SUVs couldn’t be given away by dealerships? Fuel prices reached an all-time high and the recession was hitting hard. The result: consumers flocked to late model fuel-efficient vehicles that got the job done with the least possible investment.

This also played out in the consumer tech industry. Netbooks and nettop PCs suddenly became the biggest trend there was. Buying a laptop for $250 was seen as an economical means to an end. Like the fuel-efficient small cars that thrived at the time, these small notebook computers thrived.

As soon as the brunt of the recession passed, consumers moved on to more expensive and yet still relatively efficient tablet computers. In the automotive industry, more expensive and still very efficient hybrid vehicles are flying off the lot. Coincidence? Not if you believe these industries are bound by the same basic principals of innovation.

Speech Recognition

My last point focuses on a trend that began with Ford Sync in 2007. Speech recognition was seen as a smart way to avoid putting your hands on a keyboard or the car’s stereo to switch between songs. Sync has since evolved into a clever virtual assistant on the road helping you with a number of tasks outside of playing your favorite music. Oh, and of course Sync works with most smartphones, so you can enjoy it and your phone in perfect harmony.

Speaking of phones: In 2011, Apple announced the addition of Siri to its iPhone 4S. This addition allows the user to control their music playback in addition to making calls and looking up information someone might need while out and about. This trend continued with Google through third-party solutions in addition to Google Now, which is available on Android Jelly Bean.

Final Thoughts

The automotive industry is arguably one of the biggest technology industries out there. To deny the parallels between consumer technology and consumer automotive would be akin to overlooking the similarities between a river and a stream. They may have different properties, but they’re both part of the same tree of life.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if tech companies like Apple, Dell, Microsoft, and HP start moving into the automotive industry in more ways than just partnering up to have a sync cable added to the glove box (we’re looking at you, BMW). After all, isn’t Google already working on a self-driving car?

Electric Car by Petr Kratochvil

6 comments On How Consumer Technology Parallels the Automotive Industry

  • my point is the user interfaces in cars are still a technology that needs serious work, no matter how expensive car u buy u have to deal with different UI’s across different vehicles, nobody today has time to read 400 page manual for a bmw 6 series car and then S-class. there needs to be consistency across the board.

  • Native controls are one thing but I predict that the aftermarket will be expanding to meet the need of consumers. I would love to see how touchscreens will be integrated into car stereo decks along with external storage to make them into full on computers instead of hobbled interfaces with limited software.

    Imagine a uber Raspberry Pi with a touch screen and a 2TB drive… the possibilities are endless.

  • I would have to agree with Bharat’s comment. This technology is far from perfect. Unlike smartphones and computers, there is no consistant user experience. That’s something that these auto manufacturers need to work on.

  • All these cars nowadays have smartphone connectivity as well as a digital assistant in the dashboard. The technology is great. But not quite perfect. The bluetooth wireless syncing is far from perfect. At the Auto Show, I tried connecting my iPhone to the car stereo via bluetooth and none of them seemed to work properly. I think by the time I’m ready to buy their cars they would improve on that.

  • It all boils down to the user experience of using the different technologies. For example, Bluetooth is one of the most commonly used tech features in cars. However it gets difficult because each car has it’s own method of connecting the Bluetooth device. Over time, both user experience and interface should be standardized, at least to a certain extent to provide a persistent and dependle experience across all cars.

  • sounds good to me. sounds like some of the ideas of innovators from the 50’s whose ideas are now a reality. i can’t wait for these new ideas to be developed!

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