Tesla completely changed the way I think about cars last week but I didn’t realize how big of a deal it really was until this week. 21.co CEO Balaji S. Srinivasan really put it all into perspective for me when he remarked on Twitter earlier this week that “Tesla’s use of an over-the-air update to create self-driving cars is one of the most important things ever to happen in technology.” And when you really step back and think about it, what Tesla has accomplished with its latest software update is nothing short of staggering.
It used to be that whenever you bought a car, the best you could hope for was to expect it to maintain its current performance for a few years before going into an inevitable decline. What you certainly never expected from a car was that it would actually improve over time after you bought it. But now Tesla has changed my expectations forever by improving its cars through the same kinds of over-the-air software updates we receive on our phones.
With one over-the-air software update, the Tesla Model S can now automatically change lanes and can parallel park itself without any additional hardware required. The foresight that has to go into these cars’ design is remarkable: Tesla made sure to build car hardware capable of delivering on incredibly cool new features that it knew were at least a year or more away.
What this suggests about the future of cars is that they’ll no longer be technologically static objects that you buy and use until they stop running efficiently. Instead, they’ll be things you buy that will constantly improve over time. And given that car owners these days are hanging onto their vehicles for anywhere between an average of six to 10 years, manufacturers are going to have to do a lot of work predicting what hardware they’re going to need to build into their cars to make sure they can take advantage of future software updates.
The kind of innovation I’m seeing in cars right now is reminding me of the innovation that I saw in mobile phones back in 2005 just a couple of years before the iPhone came out. In other words, we aren’t at the tipping point yet where we’ll expect every new car we buy to significantly improve itself through OTA updates, but we’re getting there and Tesla is leading the way.