Tesla raised the bar for the in-car infotainment experience with its massive 17″ displays in the Model S and X, then flipped things on their side with a 15″ landscape display in the Model 3. The large, responsive touchscreens brought the familiar interface from all of our smart devices into the car while allowing almost endless opportunities to innovate through future software updates.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently went on the Ride The Lightning podcast with Tesla enthusiast Ryan McCaffrey for a one-hour long interview. Buried in the chat was a quick discussion about the possibility of a Tesla app store that would allow for even more functionality to be added to the vehicles. Shortly after the discussion with McCaffrey, Musk took the stage at E3, a massive video game conference in Southern California. While on stage, Musk announced a new video game for Tesla’s vehicles that sets a new high bar for in-car infotainment.
Fart apps are one thing, but make no mistake, Tesla’s new Beach Buggy Racing 2 and its Tesla Arcade is the start of a revolution. The functionality demonstrated by BBR2 raises the bar to an entirely new level and hints at next-generation gaming and entertainment options just around the corner. Remember, those two USB ports in the Model S, X, and 3 can be used to attach massive external drives hosting a wide range of entertainment media.
It’s clear that the Tesla app store isn’t coming anytime soon, but we can piece together what it might look like based on tangentially related comments from the past.
If Tesla is a few months, at best, or a handful of years, at worst, away from delivering fully autonomous capabilities, the person behind the wheel will soon enjoy hours of additional freedom per week. That translates to additional demand for in-car entertainment as well as a new opportunity to generate revenue from the newly bored.
After experiencing Harmon’s in-car technology of today and looking forward a few years into the future, I opined that autonomous vehicles would make in-car entertainment a priority for automotive manufacturers almost overnight. Instead of ludicrous mode and driving-focused enhancements, electric autonomous vehicles will transition to entertainment pods. I don’t know about you, but I’m not really concerned with how fast my Uber driver boosts off the line when I’m getting a ride across town. If anything, off-the-line launches are something I don’t want to experience and that holds true when I think of autonomous vehicles as well.
With hours of additional free time in the car, people are going to want more from the in-car infotainment experience and there is no way that’s going to come from those 8″ static screens Daimler loves putting into their vehicles. Tesla is the only automotive manufacturer that has looked beyond the current manually driven automotive paradigm and designed a future flexible interior. Today, the screen is home to information that is relevant to driving, but when the person behind the wheel (and after the wheel is gone) is no longer required to drive, what will they do?
None Shall Pass!
The first big question about the inevitable Tesla in-car app store is whether or not it will be an open or closed system. Taking a walled garden approach would allow only Tesla’s apps to be installed in the cars. This is the safer route to take, but limits options and, by definition, monopolizes the in-car experience. This is the default posture that just about every automaker to date has taken with the in-car infotainment experience.
Building on this model as the de facto standard, Tesla continues to roll out new apps, whether owners want them in the car or not. Each of those apps takes up space on the built-in infotainment system and forces owners to install them. How many owners would uninstall the emissions testing app aka the fart app if they had a choice? Does everyone really want a holiday-themed Santa app on their car? Clearly, these aren’t deal-breaking decisions, but they serve to illustrate the point that not everybody is going to want every app pushed down by a manufacturer.
All May Enter
Launching an app store for third party apps is another approach, but comes with its own set of challenges. Third-party apps must conform to the agreed upon functionality constraints and operating standards for the Tesla infotainment system. There may be contractual restrictions based on Tesla’s existing agreements with the in-car music streaming providers, Slacker and Spotify.
Opening up an app store for any approved developer to use would clearly be great for owners in that it would open up the floodgates of innovation into the vehicle. We have already seen apps that stream Sentry Model and TeslaCam video into a web browser as well as web-based dashboards designed to be used in-car. Allowing native apps or more friendly browser-based web apps would allow developers around the world to explore new functionalities.
The in-car infotainment system is a distinctly separate system from Autopilot, but security would have to be the top concern. Apps would need to be vetted as any breach that occurs has the potential to affect the rest of the vehicle. Each app has the potential to gain access directly to the internet-connected, locally networked infotainment computer. Restricting access to the internet or local network could mitigate the effect any malicious app could have on the vehicle systems.
Security is a risk that is easiest mitigated by simply blocking aftermarket apps from being installed on the vehicle in the first place. It is one thing to have your phone or tablet software crash, it’s a completely different consideration when adding an app store to a system (albeit, a non-critical one) in a vehicle that could crash. Having said that, the infotainment systems in Tesla’s vehicles can already be rebooted while the vehicle is driving, even on Autopilot, though it is not recommended.
Regardless of if the apps come through a Tesla app store or an open app store, multimedia streaming is an easy win. Giving owners and passengers the ability to stream music from their favorite online music service is a no-brainer. Integration into the voice control system could allow owners to stream music effortlessly from their library of choice. Slacker is gr… uh… it’s fine, but there are other services out there that owners might prefer.
Based on what Tesla has already done with video games, it is clear that there is a bright future for in-car gaming in a Tesla. Video is also on the way as Elon tweeted out last year that video streaming would be coming to the in-car infotainment experience in V10 of the software. Timing on that is still very much up in the air, but bundling it with a future Full Self-Driving update makes the most sense.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 19, 2018
As Tesla perfects its FSD functionality, video and other infotainment options that had previously been restricted to use while charging could easily be opened up for use when the car is driving you somewhere. Why not drive to Vegas quickly if you can watch a movie or two on the way there and host an epic LAN party with three of your friends on the way home?
All I have to say to Elon is that we’re going to need a bigger display in these things before too long. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
That very same display could be used to facilitate work as well. Why not pop out a bluetooth or USB keyboard and get some work done. Heck, we could liveblog a review of the latest Tesla while it drives us around town. If Tesla provided the capability to tap into the screen, business-minded folks could clean up their inbox, write emails, review the latest TPS report (pro tip: double check that it has a cover sheet before it goes out!) and other rote work tasks while en route.
I’ve Driven It In The Future
The fully autonomous solution that allows us to fully check out may be available next year or it may take another 10 or twenty years. But irregardless of when it gets here, we know it is coming. Right along with it, a new paradigm is shaping up for the people formerly known as drivers and owners where newfound freedoms will be enjoyed, additional productivity explored, and even more leisure time will be discovered.
Tesla is leading that charge with the design of its vehicles, its software, and its Full Self-Driving suite of solutions. From the looks of things, an app store will be a part of that future and I for one am excited about that.
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