In all this time if there is anything that didn’t change much, it’s the humble automobile. (File photo)
In 1983, Motorola introduced DynaTAC 8000X—a ‘portable cellular phone’. In those innocent days it was a big sensation. It weighed around 800 gms, was 25 cm in height without including it’s big flexible antenna, could store 30 phone numbers, had a small display of red LED lights. In the next 28-odd years we’ve seen mobile phones evolve in leaps and bounds from Nokia 1100 to MotoRazr, to iPhone in 2007 and Galaxy S3 in 2012. For that matter, take any product or walk of life in the last 30 years. From big, clunky desktops to powerful ultrabooks and iPads, small clunky websites to search engines and social networks, 35 mm film to high definition digital video, Walkman to iPod nano, arcade games like Pac-man to Call of Duty, `30 crore scams to `3 lakh scams—the last 30 years have been phenomenal.
In all this time if there is anything that didn’t change much, it’s the humble automobile. Sure, some would argue the good old car has seen tremendous advancements, and they would be right. The problem though is that comparatively, a car is more or less the same as what it was 30 years ago. Not that it has not seen it’s share of technological advancement. Today’s cars have powerful computers onboard, power steering, collision sensors, advanced AC units, adjustable individually warmed seats, GPS systems, etc. And in luxury cars, they could have a bit more technology than the average poor man’s car—weather sensors, electronic assistants to keep you in your lane or to stop you from dozing off. In the last few years, more and more cars are acquiring abilities like parallel parking.
During last week’s keynote at WWDC, Apple introduced us to a technology it’s calling ‘Eyes Free’. Apple is partnering with car marquees like BMW and Toyota to put a button on their car’s steering wheels, using which drivers can talk to Siri on their iPhones and ask it questions without taking their eyes off the road. Even as Apple was announcing it, and Apple fanboys lead the cheer, I had only one reaction. I felt disgust that in 2012, all we are proud of is that we have a button that lets us talk to a cellphone, and the showpiece of this feature is only that you need not take your eyes off the road.
Why is it that in 2012, we can’t take our eyes off the road? Why are the cars not driving by themselves? Why can’t I play Angry Birds on my phone while my car takes me home? This has to do with the fact that car makers are traditionally great at one thing and one thing only—making cars. Give them a computer to design, and they are lost. Ask them to write software and they can’t even get into the first gear. One solution is for the likes of Google and Apple to get in to the game. As one of Apple’s board members revealed, if Steve Jobs were alive, he’d have designed a car. Even as Google is developing driverless cars, we are left asking: ‘Are we there yet?’