Companies seem to always be looking for new ways to integrate technology into products. The reality though, is that there are some types of products that are better suited and some that are worse off with the increased inclusion of technology. The automotive sector is a prime example of an industry that, on a multitude of levels, is not yet ready for this increased level of technological integration.
Although the mechanical, and even stylistic, aspects of luxury cars often age quite well, making them usable for many years, the technology being integrated into the dashboard of these cars shows its age very quickly. Things like small screens, lack of (or archaic) touch functionality, low resolution, unresponsiveness, and clunky looks are examples of this problem.
In 2015 car manufacturers first launched vehicles that supported the Android Auto and Apple CarPlay next generation automotive computing platforms. Previous in-car computer systems have been based on low-power, custom-designed, embedded solutions with more advanced functionality bolted on. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are closer in design to a fully functioning smartphone built into your car.
With the average lifespan of a modern smartphone around 21 months, these products become obsolete extremely quickly. With similar mobile hardware going into these Android Auto and Apple CarPlay systems as with smartphones they will become outdated just as quickly. The implications of keeping these new cars for even just five years can be seen by reviewing smartphone five years ago looked like. In 2010 the iPhone 4 was released alongside the original Samsung Galaxy S. Each of these devices are 5 hardware iterations out of date and last got an official software update 2 and 4 years ago respectively. Smartphones easily become obsolete and disused due to physical damage, lack of updates, outdated and sluggish features, or consumers interest in the latest model.
All of these issues faced by ageing smartphones will also be found in Android Auto and Apple CarPlay systems. The difference is that replacing a ageing car infotainment system isn’t as simple as buying a new smartphone. The outdated Android Auto and Apple CarPlay hardware is attached to a multi-thousand dollar car instead of just a couple hundred dollar smartphone.
Cars repair and maintenance is already an extremely expensive aspects of car ownership. The computers found in the current generation of cars are already a significant repair cost and with the added complexity of these new systems that is only going to get worse. Forget trying to get a replacement mechanical part for a 10 year old car, think about trying to find a replacement part of a 10 year old custom computer with non-standard parts that is built into your car. The continual integration of tertiary functionalities of the vehicle, like climate control, into this central computer also means that if the system is too expensive to fix the owner is faced with using or selling selling a vehicle that is now lacking even basic functionalities.
The issue of upgrading you car in the future is also one that is very important to many people. A key aspect of being able to upgrade your car is the resale value for your existing one. Consumers are less likely to spend more money on a car upfront if they know the depreciation will be very high. When it comes to cars holding their value issues of how dated the car looks and feels can be just as important as the reliability and safely of the car. It’s going to be a lot easier to sell an older car that doesn’t have a fancy media system than one that does and either looks very outdated or doesn’t work.
But even if the car’s computer hardware is still working after a couple years, the software being run will become out of date just as quickly as it does on a smartphone. The example above where the Galaxy S and iPhone 4, which received software updates for for just 2 and 3 years respectively, shows how the features and security the cars software provides will quickly become out of date. Any updates for the cars software will also face the trade-off between lengthy delays for proper updates or many bugs in quicker software releases. General sluggishness from continually pushing the hardware to support more advanced functionality is also to be expected.
The idea of placing rapidly evolving technology in a stable product, that was bought with the idea that it was a solid investment and plans to use it for many years to come, is a patently bad idea. The prospect of tapping into the mostly unexplored market of powerful car computers is clouding the judgement of large technology juggernauts. Consumer are just as guilty by blindly buying into the idea of a technologically modern car without due consideration for what they are getting into. All of this will come to a head in a couple years when the first round of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay cars start to break, be resold, and become technologically obsolete alongside their smartphone brethren.