How Smartphones Change Cars (Learning from Prior Mistakes)

Prior to the launch of Apple’s App Store in 2008, each individual carrier tightly controlled their platform selectively working with third party publishers and pushing their own products to end customers.

With the launch of the App Store, Apple (and then Google) claimed control of their platforms and created a much larger and open environment for developers to build and market products to end customers.

The result was a more vibrant ecosystem for consumers to choose applications from and a broader base of developers supporting the platform – with the carriers eventually relegated to being simply dumb pipes.

Similarly, the home automation market launched by Control 4 and Vivint was initially tightly controlled because it was initially built on top of proprietary software and hardware resulting in an expensive product with limited customization.

Following the launch of the iPhone, sensor and device costs started to decline quickly.  This was further amplified by the growth of the tablet market resulting in the new “maker” market of consumer hardware projects – many targeted at solving problems in the home.

Different here, the best vendors saw the shift happening and took advantage of the less expensive hardware and related existence – building their own apps for the platform and becoming more open to working with outsiders.

The car market is nearing a similar inflection point over the next 2 years as more and more individuals use their smartphone to control their life.

Today, car makers are still acting like the carriers – holding tight control on the platform with which apps integrate and limiting data sharing between phones and the vehicle. (Which leaves the car with expensive screens that work very poorly and consumers already using their phones instead of in dash options for navigation, traffic, and music)


Given the recent research that millennials would rather give up their car than give up their phone, there’s an opportunity for automakers to give up more control quickly and embrace a more open ecosystem with a deeper integration into their customer’s existing smartphone and other applications – rather than get run over by the change.

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I work for True Ventures, an early-stage venture capital fund with offices in San Francisco and Palo Alto. We partner with promising entrepreneurs at the earliest stages in the technology market providing hands-on management support to guide our portfolio companies through the challenges of early growth.