Tim Cook tried to do his best Steve Jobs at this year’s World Wide Developers Conferences , but one of his big announcements was that Apple was going to march right into the heart of the automotive world. Apple announced one button in-car Siri integration with partners such as Honda, GM, Chrysler, BMW, and Mercedes curiously leaving Ford off their A-list. The media was quick to question the blue oval’s shortsightedness for not kneeling to the altar of Jobs and damn the ”ball and chain” partnership Ford carries with Microsoft for it’s own SYNC system. Jalopnik even claimed that missing the Apple boat means Ford could become the uncool PC vs. others becoming the trendy Mac.
Well I say hogwash! In the past 4 years, Ford has been quick to adapt forward thinking connected technologies more so than any of its competitors. Today they continue to use unique approaches to developing new solutions across a host of different platforms. Here is why Ford has bet smart money against integrating Siri into its vehicles:
1) Siri Is Nothing New:
Some reports are clamoring that in-car Siri integration is going to change how we drive by magically automating everything we do. Calling, controlling music, scheduling meetings, checking appointments, etc. The truth is voice control in cars has been around for a long time. Siri certainly will raise it to a new level of sophistication with additional connected functionality, but there is nothing ground breaking here. The fact is Siri uses voice recognition technology from a company called Nuance. Check the link to see the list of automakers already using Nuance for their in-house infotainment systems (hint it’s more than I can even count on 2 hands)
2) Siri is Not That Great:
Ah, haven’t you seen those magical ads in which Samuel L. Jackson prepares for a date with Siri or Zoey Dechanel and Siri dance around doing, well, Zoey Dechanel things? Well in the real world, it is no secret that Siri doesn’t actually work that well and Apple has recently gotten in some hot water over its ads that sell sophistication that Siri does not have.
Ford’s SYNC system, despite it’s recent MyFord Touch hiccups, already has best-in-class voice recognition and has initial app integration that works with iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. Nielsen reported Android has over 51.8+% market share as of last month. That is over half the smartphone using country not eligible for a date with Siri.
3) Siri Loses Home Field Advantage:
What makes Apple’s products and software ecosystem so enchanting is that it is meticulously crafted from start to finish in Apple’s beautifully orchestrated, almost vertically integrated world. Apple loses all of that control partnering with automakers. Iphones will have to play nice with each automaker’s infotainment systems with varying screen sizes, features, and internal hardware not to mention the notoriously longer development times needed for cars. Who knows, this could turn out similar to Android’s current fragmentation predicament.
4) Siri is Stuck in a Conflict of Interest:
Automakers are not going to throw away the millions of dollars already plowed into their own app integrated infotainment systems (Toyota Entune, Cadillac Cue, BMW I-Drive, etc.). In affect, Siri will function as a simple add-on to these systems withholding the greater potential that comes with core integration. For example, how will Mercedes or BMW have Siri’s free turn-by-turn navigation play with their pretty ~7000$ buy-in-a-package 3d navigation system? We will wait and see.
5) Siri is Not Specialized:
The saving grace for Siri is if Apple can get developers to create specialized automotive apps that bring out its true value. The problem here is that Siri currently works with only Apple developed core apps. Also motivation for 3rd parties to develop other than music/audio based apps could be thin. You cannot click on an in-app ad in your car, audio ads would be infuriating, and I guess I could audibly post my Facebook status, but most popular apps today require a highly visual component. Apple could also look to the automakers themselves to develop apps, but you think Toyota will throw in money to develop an app that would work the same in a Chevy?
Now here are a key list of factors Ford has in its favor:
1) Core Integration:
Ford created an open app framework that hooks into the core systems of their vehicles accessing unique data such as speed, instant fuel economy, and vehicle diagnostics. This allows the creation of specialized automotive apps as well as interesting integration opportunities with typical media apps.
2) Incentivised Developers:
No other automaker has taken such an aggressive stance to foster an ecosystem of app developers using startup like tactics such as creating an official developer network, wooing developers at college campuses and trade shows, and throwing developer contests.
3) Focused Development:
They do not have to split their development resources trying to accommodate Siri.
4) A Deep-Pocketed Partner:
Despite what people perceive, Microsoft is still immensely profitable, has a robust ecosystem of its own, and is going through a second renaissance of sorts. Could you imagine Kinect motion control in a car? It would probably be the most dangerous distraction of all time, but I’ll still mark one in the AWESOME column.
By avoiding Siri’s siren song, Ford is going to save substantial time and effort trying to develop something it frankly already does very well. More importantly, it is going to allow Ford to really differentiate itself from the lemmings in the automotive space by, ironically enough, taking a similar page out of Apple’s playbook. They have decided to meticulously craft their own tech ecosystem from start to finish focused solely on enhancing the automotive experience.
Do you agree with my assessment? I would love to hear your thoughts!
Oh and Ford has not completely shunned Apple. Check out how Ford’s new dealership Ipad app hopes to change the car buying experience.