Technology is our friend: Android cars will make Apple open up or introduce a new, eye-level style of partnerships
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May 12, 2010

Android cars will make Apple open up or introduce a new, eye-level style of partnerships

Yesterday it became apparent that GM will obviously manufacture cars that run Android for in-car-use. The first Android car, the Roewe 350 (left), will debut next month at the Beijing Auto Show. And all car manufacturers will have an eye on it.
Of course, it is not the car itself that will make Apple open its OS for other manufacturers from different industries. But the fact that you can theoretically use Android for anything, a fridge, a hard disk recorder, an mp3 player, a digital camera or, more realistically, a car or a television, drastically shows that one single company, be it even as mighty, innovative and (quote Steve) amazing, incredible, great and awesome as Apple, cannot compete with simply the rest of the world if it wants to keep control over apps, hardware and OS in one hand.

What are the ingredients for a really successful (mobile) device-OS? First and foremost, making things work – enabling devices to connect to the web or with each other, enabling devices to run applications, facilitating functionality. Then, of course, offer a user interface that is not only easy but also fun to use. And that easily synchronizes data with other devices, for example our PCs or Macs that still are the backbone of our personal digital infrastructure. In this department, Apple’s OS is the clear leader. But we can assume that this is something that even HP with WebOS and Nokia (someday with Symbian or some other software) will achieve, and Windows 7/WindowsPhone 7, RIM and Android have achieved already - to an extent that is not brilliant, but sufficient. Maybe not as sexy as Apple, not as user friendly as Apple, but the job gets done -  and the troubles start: To be successful on the long run, there are two critical mass factors to be considered:
  • A critical mass of apps and functionalities that of course also depend on the variety of devices I can use with a deviceOS
  • A critical mass of consumers for whom apps and devices are designed 
On both ends, scale does matter. The more devices come with Android, the more reach on the consumer side will be achieved ...
... and the more apps will be designed that enable different devices to interconnect. Android has great opportunities here because of the Open Handset Alliance and of course it’s open source business model. Windows has great opportunities because they have a bunch of own hardware, even a successful game console, but also, more importantly, traditional relationships with hardware makers, their PC OEMs, the Toshibas, Asus’, Dells and Acers that no one should underestimate in this game.
Single companies will be either forced to open their OS for other industries (think cars, home automation, digital cameras, but also immovable public infrastructure like ATMs, supermarket cashiers etc.) or make single deals with single players. I can see an “iCar” with Lexus, GM, Honda, Tesla, BMW or whoever, but I don’t see a whole industry going to close Apple-style deals (Apple gets 125% of revenue for the first 65 years and the cars only run on Apple fuel) instead of going with Microsoft or Android. I see Apple TV and I can imagine they come up with an own TV or a partnership with Samsung, Philips, Haider or whoever, but again I don’t see why the TV manufacturer industry should not prefer to go with a free, open-source OS. And who knows how Sony and Nintendo will act in such an environment. In the end, it comes down to an easy prediction: Either Apple’s iAd will make all developers rich like hell so they don’t bother about anything else on this world, or Apple will need to introduce a new style of partnerships with many other industries that will lead to a more open, more transparent Apple OS world.