Hey y’all, it’s Austin in snowy Boston. Big Tech software is eating the auto world, but first…
Today’s top tech news:
Last week, at the annual CES technology conference, carmakers stole the (mostly virtual) show. Big vehicle brands from Chrysler to General Motors to Mercedes-Benz unveiled futuristic concepts, new electric models and flashy features. But while tech companies may have been overshadowed at the gadget pageant, they weren’t MIA: Amazon.com Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google each announced significant auto-world partnerships.
Notably, those announcements were about software. Amazon is teaming up with Stellantis NV, maker of Jeep and Chrysler, to develop in-vehicle infotainment and provide cloud services. And BMW touted a model with a high-resolution Amazon Fire TV. Google, meanwhile, revealed a new Volvo integration with its virtual assistant that will enable drivers to pre-heat their vehicles remotely by voice.
In some ways, these kinds of incremental features fall woefully short of a Big Tech-pioneered car that could take on Tesla Inc., disrupt Detroit and compete with Asian and European auto behemoths. For as long as the car has been considered a, ahem, “mobile device,” there’s been speculation that the likes of Apple Inc. would create their own iCar. But those hardware efforts have sputtered again and again.
Instead, at least in the near term, the biggest tech players have gone after more achievable (and far less costly) software initiatives. You’ve likely encountered these features if you own a newish car or have plugged your phone into a Hertz rental: Android Auto, Apple’s CarPlay, Alexa Auto, etc.
Tech giants are, of course, also engineering more under-the-hood advancements such as self-driving tools, but the more consumer-facing features could prove a lucrative way to sideload their brands inside cars. Think of all the billions of eyeballs that will be staring at screens on the road in the coming years. There’s still a relatively untapped audience for apps, content, search and location data, and, yes, likely advertising too.
Tons of cars already come standard with CarPlay, the interface of apps that lets drivers use Apple Music, Apple Maps and other non-Apple apps seamlessly inside their cars. Ford has struck a big partnership with Android, and you can speak with Amazon’s Alexa inside your Audi or Toyota. Recognizing that car brands likely don’t want technology companies getting in the way of their direct relationship with customers, Microsoft Corp. has pitched itself a neutral software provider. “We are not pushing a Microsoft brand in the car,” Sanjay Ravi, Microsoft’s automotive industry general manager, told me a few years back. “We will give you the brain and provide all the elements to create [your own].”
Such software-centric strategies are prudent and may end up being a Trojan Horse for larger vehicle ambitions, but the tech industry’s approach isn’t without downsides, at least for customers. Right now, depending on the car, for example, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are usually interchangeable, plug-and-play experiences driven by whatever smartphone the driver has. But if they stop being so flexible, it’d be a pain if your smartphone-driven life no longer integrates with whatever software platform your car runs on.
Another downside would be if the bigger technology players take over the ecosystem, to the point where digital car systems are as boring, duopolistic and as indistinguishable as mobile operating systems are today. I’m not totally optimistic that Nvidia or Toyota can pull off a better alternative, but more digital competition is certainly refreshing.
As for carmakers, they ought to be wary not only of Big Tech’s longer-term goals, but also of the invisible impact they may be having on consumer affinity for their brands. My wife and I absolutely love our Subaru Outback, but since Google Maps started freezing recently (and dangerously) on Apple CarPlay, we found ourselves blaming Subaru—not Google or Apple—for the glitches.
After searching online, it seems increasingly likely that my Outback is not at fault (sorry, Subie!). Until the problem is fixed, I’ll be driving my car the old-fashioned way, without any plugged-in Apple, Amazon or Google apps. So far, I haven’t notice a difference. —Austin Carr
America’s largest financial firms are using tech platforms to buy lots and lots of houses.
Hundreds of thousands of workers at Foxconn’s and Huawei’s China tech hubs are being tested for Covid-19 as outbreaks show no signs of easing.
A glitch left Google staffers without a bank deposit on payday.
Andreessen Horowitz raised $9 billion to invest in a wide range of startups. No comment yet from Jack Dorsey.
Advent Technologies Announces the Successful Delivery of Portable Fuel Cell Products to the Hellenic Army – Business Wire
(Photo: Business Wire)(Photo: Business Wire)(Photo: Business Wire) BOSTON–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Advent Technologies Holdings, Inc. (NASDAQ: ADN) (“Advent“ or the “Company”), an innovation-driven leader in the fuel cell