What did you do for the winter-solstice-adjacent holidays? Did you fly to a Ski resort? Did you drive across town to relatives or friends? Did you go over the river & through the woods to grandmother’s house? Personally, I did the latter, except the “river” was the Mississippi and the “woods” was the state of Texas. All in total, we drove about 4,000 miles from (near) Phoenix, AZ to (near) Jacksonville, FL (~2,000 miles each way). And, being the stereotypical alpha-male, I drove about 3,000 of those 4,000 miles & I’ll tell you the experience made me very glad to be going to CES!
Not just because I’m flying there (thankfully), but because of some of the things that we (Intel) will be showing at what some call, the biggest trade show of the year (in my heart, that will always be E3, but I know facts say otherwise). Hopefully, this will not be a shock to any of you, but Intel has, for the last several years, really been trying to make a difference in the “Automotive Electronics” (sometimes called “Infotainment“) industry not just because it is a good business opportunity for us (it is), but also because it is something that is sorely needed. If you think back to the Cell Phone market just 10 years ago, I think this is a good parallelism for what will happen in cars (and trucks and motorcycles) in the next 10 years.
To pick a point in history that we’ll never forget – do you remember what you did when 9/11 hit? I’m guessing one of the top 5 things you did was either call or maybe text your loved ones to check on them – probably over a cell phone (obviously so if you texted them). Other things you probably did if find the nearest TV to watch the horror as it happened. But what did you not do? Among other things, you didn’t Tweet, you didn’t update Facebook, you didn’t watch what was going on over YouTube, you didn’t check Google News for the latest updates, and you certainly didn’t do any of the above on your Cell Phone.
Now think about what happened when you heard Bin Laden was killed (to close the loop full circle). You may have still called or texted your loved ones to share the news. You may have also tried to get near a TV to see updates. But, especially if you are 30 years old or younger, you probably also sent or read Tweets, posted or read Facebook, and (maybe a day later) went to YouTube to see videos or especially parodies of the news. And, odds are, the younger you are, the more likely you did some if not all of that on your smart phone. But why? Part of the answer is certainly technology. The great and all powerful “Force” (if you’re a Star Wars fan) is absolutely Moore’s law. Doing the “double every 2 yrs” thing, from when the Twin Towers fell to the last thing to go through Bin Laden’s mind (a bullet), semiconductor technology has doubled its density in terms of transistors per area 5 times, or roughly a 32 fold difference. Specifically for Intel, we went from being from a place where 130 nm (at the time called .13 Micron) was “cutting edge” in 2001 to 2012 when we’ll be releasing 22 nm products later this year. For reference sake – imagine if we were able to shrink your average sized man (6 feet tall) to a height of a standard 12″ school ruler – that’s what we’ve done in semiconductors in just over a decade.
But, beyond just the hardware, there’s a lot that has changed in the software of mobile phones in 10 years. Do you remember what apps you were using in 2001? More apptly (see what I did there?), did you have ANY apps on your phone in 2001? You may have had “functions” (contact list, maybe a calculator, perhaps a camera), but you didn’t have apps they way you think today. And you certainly did not have (unless you were an ultra-cutting edge hacker) multiple different ways to do the same function. By-in-large, you maybe had a feature phone, were able to do a few things outside of making phone calls, for which you paid plenty, and you probably had no idea what “operating system” was on your phone (yes, it had an OS even back then, even if you didn’t know what it was). Contrast that with today where you can have 3, 4, 5 or more different browsers on your phone, several different “cameras” (even though you only have 1 physical camera) and numerous other games and apps that has turned your phone into something that is much more than what you thought your phone was in 2001. And, perhaps unbeknownst to some of you, a major reason for this shift was the makers of the mobile OSes went ahead and embraced developers. In the fall of 2007, Apple announced their intent to release the iOS SDK (Software Development Kit) in the spring of 2008 (it was released on March 6th). Similarly, Google released their Android SDK on November 12th, 2007. As you can see, the big difference is the iOS SDK will only run on Mac OS X, while the Android SDK will run on just about anything (including Mac OS X). But regardless of those differences, the SDKs of both systems have been used by numerous developers to create hundreds of thousands of different apps which have in turn been downloaded by millions of people to create billions of total downloads. And all of this is because of a general “opening up” of the platform to embrace developers.
This “inflection point” for cell phones is not the first time this has happened. For those folks old enough to remember, the world of computing BEFORE the PC was very similar to cell phones a decade ago. By-in-large, applications (or as they were known then: “programs”) for antiquated, proprietary computing systems were pretty much only made by the companies that made the computer. For example, in the 1960, Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) released various models of PDP computers, such as the PDP-8. While they were “popular” for their day (more than 50,000 PDP-8 systems were sold), there wasn’t a huge amount of “openness” and embracing of developers outside of DEC. By the time the “CMOS-8″ version of the PDP-8 was released in 1979, it was the end of an era as IBM’s first “PC” was released just 2 years later and was not only more economical, but also, because it used an independent OS, become a key platform around which developers could orbit as they started the boon age of computing. But this key ingredient in the success of the PC – besides being reasonably economical – this “open-ish” environment that could woo developers to focus on creating new applications/programs for PCs was one of the big things that helped the “PC” (and it’s clones) beat the other computing platforms. However, before the release if IBM’s PC in 1981 – the conclusion that IBM & clones based on Microsoft would (eventually) win a “significant” market segment share was far from a foregone conclusion:
As you can see in the above, compiled by the brilliant Jeremy Reimer (see this post for all the background) – when IBM entered the brawl, they were actually the small kid in the fight – with Tandy, Atari, and Apple all having very healthy market segment shares. However, same market, but over the next 7 years, the equations shifted quite a bit. With the exception of Commodore (especially with the Commodore-64) from 1983 to 1987 – they pretty much all had the market segment shares dwarfed by the might of the IBM & Clones Juggernaut. By the time the last year of the decade rolls around, the history of computers has pretty much been written:
The lesson we learned is, create a environment where developers (especially software developers) likes & have enough openness on the hardware side that several companies can be competitive, and you will end up with a thriving market. It happened in PCs 3 decades ago. It happened (is happening?) in Cell Phones over the last decade. And, in my opinion, it will happen in cars (and other vehicles) over the next decade. But how does this tie into my driving across country over the holidays? I’m GLAD you asked! When you are stuck in a vehicle for the better part of 2 days, you start to really realize all the things it doesn’t (but could) have. For example, my wife & I both have cell phones. Plus, we had at least 2 computers, 1 tablet, a Nintendo DS, and a Color Nook. Now, many more modern cars (we borrowed a 1999 Ford Expedition from a friend, for which I’m eternally grateful) will in fact have more USB ports. Which, for Cell Phones & a Nook, etc. are fine for charging – but, the reality is, we want to do a lot more than just charge our devices.
Take my specific case off the table for a sec & envision the quintessential “College Road Trip” – 4 Bros out on an adventure or 4 Girls heading out to a distant Spa Day or some combination – we’ll use the cast of Friends to make this easier. Who’s doing to have the itinerary (route, approved bathroom breaks, cheapest gas stops) all mapped out ahead of time? Monica – good job! Who’s going to have the best music collection? Chandler, because he could afford it. Who’s going to have the most “eclectic” music collection? Phoebe, because what’s a road trip without “Smelly Cats?” You see where this is going. They would all (if the show was still going on today) have a smart phone at the least (let’s not troll & cite who would have which), and there would probably be a few other devices like Laptops, Tablets, etc. What if Joey had a movie on his Tablet? Does he want to watch it alone? No, he wants the rest (except the driver) to watch it with him – so he wants to stream it to other’s devices and/or into the displays they may already be mounted in the car. The same goes for Monica’s overly-detailed-itinerary – she doesn’t want to try to run it off her phone, she wants to upload it to the cars system to it can integrate in with not only the car’s GPS system, but also things like it’s fuel gage. It might be brilliant that you figured out that Gas Station “X” is 25 cents cheaper than anything else for 100 miles, but if you run out of gas 5 miles away from it, that will kind of suck.
So, just like Star Trek – we don’t just want a +5V power supply (via USB ports) running through the car, we want the ability to plug in numerous devices, stream music and or videos to multiple different screens, and, in short, have a built-in computer & network in our vehicles. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the car for 39 hours (**NOT** recommended) or 3.9 hours (that’s fine) or 39 minutes, you want your car to start helping you in your journey, not fighting you. Think for just a moment the number of Apps that have popped up for smart phones and tablets in just (roughly) the last 4 years. Think of the number of vendors making smart phones. Think of the thriving ecosystem of companies making apps or creating accessories for all those phones. Now imagine a similar thing going on during your next car purchase – not only to you have a few different vendors from which to choose – with different features & price points, but your car actually gets BETTER after you buy it because now you can get the new “Avoid-Traffic” app or the “Find-Cheap-Gas” app or the “Find-an-open-parking-space-in-the-mall-on-Black-Friday” App or (the very best) “Find-the-BEST-Car-Apps” App. You will be able to plug in just about any phone or similar devices & it will not only charge, but also share it’s media or network you so you can play Angry Birds Head-to-Head (my prediction of the next installment of that game is you knock down you kill your opponent’s pigs before he kills yours).
It won’t happen overnight. There will be some early progresses. There will be some missed expectations. It will grow and evolve just like the PC market did in the 1980s and 1990s, except, by leveraging what we’ve learned in computers and what we’ve learned in smart phones, it will progress much faster. And there will be things that happen that none of us could have predicted. So, if you’re at CES, come by Booth 7253 in Central Hall (near the connection to the South Hall) so see our VERY Cool (I know, I’m biased) Infotainment Demo. Or, come see some of the other cool demos we’ve got in the booth. If you can’t make it, I’ll be there Wednesday & Thursday, so I’ll try to grab some pictures & videos for you.
But, when it’s all said & done, there’s 1 thing I *KNOW*
In the Near Future, Car Buyers will be Counting the Number of USB Ports just like, a few years ago, they Counted the Number of Cup Holders!
USB Ports in Cars are the New Cup Holders!!
As always, let me know what you think in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter: @Geek8ive – THANKS!