The Truth About Cars » apple The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 20:45:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » apple Android Auto vs. Apple CarPlay vs. Your Precious Bodily Fluids Fri, 27 Jun 2014 11:00:49 +0000 tumblr_m9hum9gnmd1rsen2io1_500At yesterday’s Google I/O keynote speech, Google laid out its vision for Android Auto (reported here yesterday), which is quite similar to Apple’s CarPlay. I’ve ranted here before about Apple’s CarPlay when it was first announced and after more details came out last March. Both have the idea that your phone can hijack the screen in your car. What’s newsworthy from Google is that we have an enlarged list of vendors who are playing along. (Wired has the full list. Suffice to say that you’ll have plenty of choices if you want a car that goes both ways, if you know what I mean. Most interesting factoid: Tesla isn’t playing with either Apple or Google. Hear that? It’s the sounds of thousands of alpha-nerd Tesla owners crying out in terror.)

Today, I want to address why you should stop worrying and learn to love having your phone in charge of your car’s telematics display.

Using most computer crap in cars will kill you. I’ve had enough of people arguing about BMW i-Drive vs. Audi MMI vs. giant Tesla touchscreens vs. your smartphone. You all don’t get it. They’re all part of a Communist plot to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids. Or at least distract us and get us into horrific driving accidents. When you’re driving, you should have your hands on the wheel, or your passenger’s thigh. No, no, definitely on the wheel.

But some computer crap in cars is exceptionally valuable. When you’re driving somewhere new, nav systems are great. Even if you’re driving somewhere you go all the time, modern nav systems like Waze give you real-time user-reported intel on the traffic and even where the speed traps are. But how do Waze drivers report speed traps? They press tiny buttons on the phone and promptly create new accidents for other Waze drivers to report.

So how can you use a computer in your car safely? What we’ve seen so far from the automakers is largely a massive failure on this front. BMW’s iDrive, no matter how much they simplify it, is still an abomination upon humanity. Tesla’s giant and beautiful touchscreen, much like the Chevy Volt and other new cars that don’t have real buttons any more, require you to look for the button you’re trying to press. Prior attempts at voice recognition are laughably inaccurate, particularly once the car is moving at freeway speed and you’ve got wind noise and tire noise, never mind a blaring stereo. What’s left? The thing that Google seems to get, and you know Apple will copy it a year later and claim they invented first, is that they have all this knowledge about you. Your calendar has your destination address right next to your appointment. And they know where you live and where you drive every day on your commute. Why is this a good thing? Because Google will (hopefully) be very good at guessing what you’re up to and will just do it with little or no user intervention at all. When you do need to use your voice to tell your nav system what to do, or what music you want to play, you’ll get the benefit of Google’s backend data center megabrain which can do a way better job of figuring out what you’re talking about than the puny computer in your car or phone. Why? Because it’s got context. If you’re trying to navigate to a some business, it’s going to compare your vocal garble to the names of local destinations, especially if you did a Google search on your computer beforehand or your buddy emailed you the address. If you’re trying to play some hipster indie band, it’s going to look at the names in your library and in its “people who like X tend to like Y” megabrain graph. Smaller search space = higher recognition accuracy.

But I don’t trust the Google megabrain with my precious privacy fluids. We are rapidly approaching a moment of truth, both for ourselves as human beings and for the life of our nation. Now, truth is not always a pleasant thing, but the fact is that you’re already telling Google, Apple, the NSA, OkCupid, and the fiendish fluoridators far too much about yourself. It’s a huge pain to keep apps from profiling you, but you can do it if you insist. (I use the totally not user-friendly XPrivacy. My proposed solution for the real world: government regulation. But I digress.) For the rest of us, there’s a tradeoff. You give up some privacy. In return you get something. Maybe that something is a free version of some game. You could pay $1 and get the advertising-free version. But do you pay that dollar? No? That’s how little you truly value your own privacy.

When you use Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, or Microsoft Win9 Cartopia Enterprise Edition, you’re indeed giving up some privacy, but look at what you’re getting back. You’re getting good stuff. For a great price.

How will we ultimately trade our privacy for all these great features? Will Google crack down on apps’ ability to learn totally unnecessarily personal things about you? (There is a new feature in Android “L” that’s supposed to help with this.) Will government regulators ultimately crack down on Google? We’ll see. Now let’s get this thing on the hump — we got some flyin’ to do.


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Google Debuts Android Auto During I/O Keynote Thu, 26 Jun 2014 10:00:10 +0000 Android Auto + Honda Civic

Google’s entry into the connected-car game stepped up to the next level this week when Android Auto was unveiled before the developers in attendance at the 2014 Google I/O Keynote Address.

Automotive News reports Android Auto — formerly known as Google Auto Link — will not be an embedded system, but “projected” from Android-powered smartphones through USB into the head unit. Its main feature is its voice-enabled operation, allowing the driver to receive and respond to texts, get directions to the nearest restaurant or fuel station, and dictate to-do lists for later reference, all without having to take their eyes off the road.

Android Auto was also designed for app developers in mind, simplifying the process of creating, distributing and updating their work without worrying if the embedded system will play nice with them by centralizing everything around the smartphone or tablet.

Though players such as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Volkswagen Group and Honda are among those on-board with Android Auto, Google did not say which of the members of the Open Automotive Alliance would be the first to bring the technology to the showroom. However, Hyundai product planning manager John Shon says his employer will be the first out of the gate when newer models of the 2015 Sonata arrive with both Android Auto and competitor Apple’s own CarPlay by the end of 2014; current 2015 models will receive both systems upon release.

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Nokia Enters Connected Vehicle Fight With $100M Investment Fund Mon, 12 May 2014 12:00:52 +0000 nokia evolution brief

Having moved its smartphone business to Microsoft, Nokia’s next project is a $100 million investment fund for companies specializing in smart cars.

BBC News reports the fund will be administered by Nokia Growth Partners, while Nokia itself aims to bring its navigation offerings — one of three key points the Finnish company will pursue alongside networks and new technologies — into the connected car market.

Nokia is only the latest to enter into the fray, with Google, BlackBerry, Apple and Intel — who has its own $100 million fund for the rapid development of Internet-connected vehicles — seeking to make their mark on the potentially disruptive market. While Google’s Android will soon find its way into offerings by Hyundai and Audi, Apple’s iOS-based CarPlay has found partners in Ferrari and BMW.

As for what’s at stake for all who enter, the connected car market promises to not only bring the smartphone experience into the vehicle, but to connect vehicles with each other, altering driving behaviors while increasing safety as NGP partner Paul Asel explains:

For the last few years there has been a surge in innovation that has brought technological advances leading to safer, cleaner, increasingly connected, intelligent and more affordable vehicles. Vehicles are becoming a new platform for technology adoption very similar to phones or tablet.

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BlackBerry Fights Google, Apple To Maintain Connected-Car Lead Fri, 28 Mar 2014 12:44:33 +0000 Blackberry-QNX-Car-Entertainment-and-Telematics

Though BlackBerry owns a sliver of the smartphone market they once dominated, its QNX-based connected-car systems may be the best weapon they have in maintaining its lead over the companies that drove the Canadian company nearly out of the smartphone business.

Bloomberg reports QNX — the choice for connected-car systems by Ford, Porsche and BMW among others — is now facing competition from both Apple and Google for market and mind share of an industry expected to be worth $53 billion in 2018.

According to IHS Automotive analyst Mark Boyadjis, the bigger challenge will come from Google, whose Android operating system helped finish the job Apple’s iPhone began in 2007 in pushing out BlackBerry from the global smartphone market. Google — who also collaborates with the QNX division on occasion — has already put its mark on the Kia Soul and Mercedes-AMG SLS, and established the Open Automotive Alliance with Audi, General Motors, Honda and Hyundai.

Meanwhile, BlackBerry and Apple are on more equal footing with the latter’s CarPlay platform, bringing the connect-car/iPhone experience to Ferrari at the 2014 Geneva Auto Show this month.

As for QNX itself, the BlackBerry-owned division continues to expand further into the connected-car market, with Ford dropping Microsoft for the micro-kernel OS in its maligned Sync/MyFord Touch system last month. The Blue Oval’s action would place the automaker in good company, as QNX also powers systems used by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Hyundai, and Jaguar.

The biggest advantage QNX has over Google and Apple is its proven track record in running safety systems, where a software issue could mean the difference between life and death, which Boyadjis believes will carry BlackBerry and QNX into the future against the two technology titans from California.

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Apple to Show iOS in the Car at Geneva … in a Ferrari Sun, 02 Mar 2014 16:49:11 +0000 Ferrari Apple iOS

According to Brand Finance and other business experts, Ferrari- not Apple- is the world’s strongest brand. Apple, however, are no dummies- and they’ve decided to hitch their “iOS in the Car” wagon to Ferrari’s ever-rising star when both companies step out onto the stage at the 84th Geneva International Motor Show and show off Apple’s in-car operating system … in the new, production-ready LaFerrari hybrid super car and the new for 2014 Ferrari California T.

Apple and Ferrari first announced their collaboration almost a year ago, after last year’s Geneva show. It makes perfect sense, then, that the first fruits of their labor should appear now, on the largest automotive stage in the world … and not too long after Ford hilariously announced that it would be integrating- *snerk!* a version of Research in Motion’s BlackBerry OS into its own cars.

Further evidence for the upcoming announcement comes in the person of Eddy Cue. Eddy’s the vice president of Internet Software and Services at Apple, likely one of the people most involved with iOS in the Car, and just so happens to have been named to the Ferrari’s board of directors last November, making the Ferrari/Apple connection that much more obvious.

SO, while we wait for the official announcement to happen at Geneva, let’s take a look at the highly visible Ferraris that are expected to carry the new Apple iOS in the Car system, below. Just, you know, don’t expect Siri to be any good.


Apple iOS in the Car / Ferrari California T

Apple iOS in a Car + Ferrari California Apple iOS in a Car + Ferrari California Apple iOS in a Car + Ferrari California Apple iOS in a Car + Ferrari California


Apple iOS in the Car / Ferrari LaFerrari

Apple iOS in a Car + Ferrari LaFerrari Apple iOS in a Car + Ferrari LaFerrari Apple iOS in a Car + Ferrari LaFerrari Apple iOS in a Car + Ferrari LaFerrari

Originally published on Gas 2.

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Product Review: LX Dual USB Car Charger with Leather Grip Mon, 03 Feb 2014 13:00:22 +0000

The vehicles we aspire to own have one thing in common: timeless design over mere transportation: Ferraris over Fiats. CUVs instead of sedans, or personal luxury vehicles in lieu of a hatchback. So why not treat yourself to a leather-wrapped charging apparatus? IMG_2492 Oh yes, it charges your smartphone/tablet with precision…but where’s the passion in that? Let’s charge things up with a review enhancement to id America’s “LX Dual USB Car Charger with Leather Grip” with a two-pronged (get it? nevermind…) attack:

  1. Rename this stunning work of modern art with a more fitting title: ZOMG LEATHER USB CHARGER!!!1!  or “ZLUC” for short.
  2. Go down memory lane: showing how much better automobiles from several decades work with a ZLUC in their cigar holes.

And, for this Lincoln-Mercury fanboi, what better starting point than the famous 1961 Lincoln Continental? IMG_2484 As you can clearly see, ZLUC is a fantastic fit in one of the finest automobiles to grace American roads in the 1960s.  The leather-wrapped goodness shows itself off against the strong aluminum elements of the Conti’s dashboard.  Also note how ZLUC is intended for Apple products ONLY… Android users?  No leather wrapped chargers for you. In fact, do yourself a favor and close this browser (probably not Safari, either) and peep those all-plastic chargers on eBay. Philistine! I’m just kidding!  ZLUC’s packaging lists the following items as worthy of getting their electrons massaged by the tender luxury of leather wrapping, in this order:

  1. iPad
  2. iPad mini
  3. iPhone
  4. Tablets & Smartphones

So you Android and Windows people can indeed continue reading! IMG_2498 The Continental Mark III was well-known for the time a C/D scribe made it from coast to coast with no money, only promises to gas station owners underwritten by the sheer class of this stunning machine.  So how dare you consider any non-ZLUC phone charger to duplicate this trip today? IMG_2485 Note how ZLUC not only adds to the Mark III’s faux stitching with its REAL leather wrapping, the contrasting color actually matches the wood grain trim!  And when not needed, it hides easily in the ashtray binnacle so mere mortals who live without leather infused battery charging shall not be violently jealous of your elevated status. Like you Android users! IMG_2499 Obviously the pinnacle of personal luxury design was the late 1970s, before there was a cure for disco fever with downsized machines “from here to eternity.”  And obviously the Continental Mark V was the baddest of them all: three inches longer than a Ford Excursion when Cadillac was downsizing their rides for some stupid energy crisis. How will ZLUC fare against the toughest American Hustler? Could it possibly fail? IMG_2486 ZOMG DAT LEATHER AND WOOD!  You are an absolute fool to not rest your tired booty after a long night of coke snorting disco dancing in the super-classy interior of the Mark V, and let your iPhone recharge via leather wrapped battery rejuvenation! IMG_2489 Quite honestly, you need multiple ZLUC’s for every cigar hole in a Mark V!  Why you need TWO of these beauties for the rear of both door panels. IMG_2491 Did I forget the 1980s?  Hardly.  Yes the 1990s had mobile phones, but never such uncharted luxury as a USB charger wrapped in the same quality leather as the finest German machine of the era. Yes, the ZLUC smells as good as it looks! But I digress.. The futuristic center stack of the 1993-1995 Lincoln Mark VIII looks rather fantastic in its so good it’s almost not faux wood trimming, complete with ZLUC’s matching brown leather wrapping.  Also note the high-tech technology of the blue LED light on ZLUC’s face, proving it’s ready to take your mobile device to the next level… …with luxury in mind! 971620_10151508996138269_1350646760_n Why that leather wrapped charger is so fantastic I will never use my factory installed car phone again…ever!


But how timeless is this classic for one’s cigar hole?  Let’s put it to the ultimate test. IMG_2490 ZOMG TESTAROSSA LEATHER USB CHARGER!!!1!  As the photo shows, Crockett and Tubbs only need a ZLUC in Cocaine White Leather to completely dominate the Drug Trade! Is there a better way to look moody and intense while charging your iPhone? I think not! Can you imagine the great selfies Crockett could post on Instagram if his iPhone was connected to ZLUC? Hashtag that’s what’s In The Air Tonight!

So can you, dear reader, put a price on such perfection?  You fool, the ZLUC is priceless!  Or $24.99 plus shipping, available directly at id America’s suitably upscale website. Well, what are you waiting for?  A leather wrapped invitation to buy one of these babies for yourself?


(id America provided their LX Dual USB Car Charger with Leather Grip in brown leather for this review.)

IMG_2484 web_feature_lxcarcharger IMG_2486 IDPA201BRN_angle coverphoto IMG_2492 IMG_2499 IMG_2498 IMG_2489 IMG_2485 IMG_2490 971620_10151508996138269_1350646760_n IMG_2491 IDPA201BRN_front

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Scrambling the Politics of Mass Transit in San Francisco Mon, 23 Dec 2013 11:00:22 +0000 googlebus

Image from Twitter @craigsfrost

Positively or negatively, mass transit is often viewed as a social leveler. Rich and poor alike ride the subway in New York, London and Berlin. Atlantans of all economic and social backgrounds make use of MARTA’s facilities, as they do in many other American cities where public transit is the most efficient way of navigating the inner cities. Of course, these are public systems, funded by fares and taxpayer money.


They fulfill the transportation needs of a wide segment of the population, and they generally give the same level of service regardless of income or status. In areas that aren’t as densely urbanized as the aforementioned examples and where car ownership for city dwellers is a more practical proposition, mass transit usage tends to skew towards a less affluent demographic. As a political football, mass transit can thus be kicked in many directions depending on ideological necessity. However, the underlying assumption for either end of the political spectrum remains the same: mass transit is an equalizer. But what happens when this typical political equation is turned on its head? Could riding the bus be considered a show of affluence instead of equality or penury? Protestors in the San Francisco bay area seem to think so.

On December 20th, demonstrators blocked the paths of two private buses (operated by tech firms Google and Apple) in a protest action. In Oakland and in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco, protestors held up the buses when they stopped to collect employees. This was the second such action in two weeks. Previous protests were peaceful, but in Oakland things got ugly. The Google bus had a window broken and tires slashed; protestors dispersed after police were called, with no arrests or citations issued. Before they left, protestors harangued bus riders and handed out copies of this supremely classy flyer. Many of the largest tech firms with headquarters in the area run private bus lines that ferry workers from the city to the suburbs. This sort of anti-Levittown arrangement has led to simmering tensions between employees of the tech giants and other city residents.

So what’s driving these protests? In a word, gentrification. The expansion of tech firms on the city’s outskirts and general economic recovery since the Great Recession has driven up rents enormously within the city. The median rental rate for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco is now almost $2800 a month, a 27% increase since 2011. Protestors blame new arrivals to the city for skyrocketing rents, a new wave of evictions, and overall social unrest. They claim that Google, Apple, and other tech companies are turning older neighborhoods into bedroom communities for their employees. This is done, they say, with little regard for the impact on long-term residents, many of whom live in rent-controlled apartments. The bus services are the most obvious manifestation of this trend, and have thus become a target for protestors.

Tech companies offer shuttle service between the city and their suburban campuses as an employment perk. These unregulated private buses often use public stops to pick up and drop off employees, without paying anything to city. This has generated complaints about congestion and obstruction of public buses. Some metro San Francisco buses have been forced to stop short or to let passengers off in the middle of the street, undoubtedly an irritating circumstance. The city is currently in negotiations with Google and other tech companies to institute a fee system for use of public stops, and to prevent congestion. But it’s clear that frustration with the situation has already transcended bureaucratic dialogue.

One can sympathize with the concerns of protestors about the upheaval in established neighborhoods and the misuse of public facilities. Forking over the better part of three grand a month for a one-bedroom apartment seems insane anywhere outside of Manhattan or Tokyo. But attacking the workers responsible for a city’s economic renaissance is surely a self-defeating strategy. New construction may help alleviate housing pressures, as thousands of city apartments are scheduled to become available within the next several years. Until then, the city’s longtime residents and the architects of the new tech boom will have to learn to live with each other. In this case, riding the bus divides citizens rather than uniting them.

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Analyst to Apple CEO, Chairman: Buy Tesla Tue, 29 Oct 2013 15:16:54 +0000 Tesla-Model-S. Photo courtesy

It’s one thing for Tesla Motors to be the Apple of motoring. It’s another for Apple to be the Apple of motoring. The solution, according to one analyst: Apple should buy Tesla to remain profitable long after the gold rush of smartphones and tablets has disappeared from the rear view mirror.

CNN Money reports an analyst for the German investment bank Berenberg, one Adnaan Ahmad, has penned an open letter to both Apple CEO Tim Cook and chairman Arthur Levinson, strongly suggesting they pay a visit to Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s high-tech lab — no doubt interrupting his Lotus submarine studynot with a demand for Doug Field’s return to One Infinite Loop, but with a Halliburton briefcase full of cash. At least five of them.

Why? According to Ahmad, purchasing the EV automaker down the road would allow Apple to obtain the type of growing revenues that will keep the computer maker in the green for a long time to come, something that no iPhone or iPad can guarantee once the age of hipster gadgetry draws to a close. Ahmad also believes that Apple’s habit of disrupting developing markets, such as telephony and tablet computing, is just what the doctor ordered for the auto industry in the United States, leading to a much more rapid transition to hybrid and electric vehicles of all shapes and colors.

As for Musk’s role, Ahmad believes Cook and Levinson “could strike up a partnership [with Musk] and obtain a new iconic partner to lead Apple’s innovation drive,” invoking the spirit of late Apple CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs while imploring the current guard to go outside of the box once again.

And if Cook and Levinson don’t heed his words? Then, per Ahmad, “the key debate will always be about [Apple's] ability to sustain these abnormal margins in [their] iPhone business.”

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Hammer Time: Old Tech / New Tech Tue, 29 Oct 2013 11:00:18 +0000

Ah, the good old days. A time when smartphones were just PDA’s with hormone imbalances.

A time of basic cell phones, brick-thick cameras, and camcorders barely big enough to require a hand strap.

I remember all this old tech like it was yesterday, and for one simple reason: I still used all of them until recently.

Until about a month ago, I used the same basic cell phone I got for free back in 2008.

Absolutely nothing special, the bare bones MetroPCS phone enabled one-handed dialing and texting without even looking at the screen.

One thumb and dome. I mean, done.

That primitive device was brutally brilliant for yours truly because it was essentially “dope resistant”. It withstood a 45-MPH launch from  a Lincoln Town Car’s hood with nary a scratch.  I lost it dozens of times, once for two days. Yet I would invariably find it again and continue to beat it like a red-headed stepchild.

In time it was scratched, kicked, dropped, thrown, and beaten all to hell.

I treasured it. With each passing month, that miniature screen would get a little bit more faded and dim. Sometimes – not often…maybe once a month – the screen would freeze up or a button would stick.

No worries. At least not for a guy in a time warp. Even a few minutes of downtime each month was not nearly enough for me to invest in modern smartphones. Five-hundred dollars for a friggin’ phone? Ha! Not from this frugal zealot!

Then something happened…


I left it on top of a Subaru Outback and gave the keys to one of my customers. After a ten-minute test drive I heard the words that would change the course of my technological future.

“Steve, I really like this Outback. But I heard this strange clunking sound when I made my first turn. Are the CV joints okay?”

“Ummmm… I think it was my cell phone.”

A futile search on the nearby intersection yielded nothing more than a shocking amount of litter, and mild amusement from the passersby.

The time had come.

It was September 19th, 2013, and the cost of not having a phone for my business was far more dire than the relatively low cost of buying a good phone…a damn good phone…maybe even…the best phone?

So I powered up my fully-functional 2001 Pentium 4 with Windows XP and Googled “cell phones” and “best.”  A relentless assault of one-worded responses confronted me:


It was not because the iPhone was better than the Galaxy S4, which was better than the HTC One, which was…. what the hell are all these things?

No, it was because Apple was releasing the new iPhone 5C and 5S models the next day.

So I went to Wal-Mart.

And the AT&T store.

And T-Mobile.

And Best Buy.

But the iPhone 5S was nowhere to be found. It was worse than Chrysler’s release of the new Jeep Cherokee. I couldn’t find this thing in my neck of the woods to save my ass from first base.

I had to do something, anything, to get a decent cell phone.

I Facebooked. I called friends. I contacted people that I’m not even sure are my friends anymore.

One guy offered me a phone, but batteries were no longer available for that (2007) model.  However, the teenage girl working at the battery store was my savior.   She ducked in the back and emerged with something small, pink, and adorned with a Hello Kitty sticker.

I quietly sighed, but left with a new battery and the following phone for $40.


The damn thing’s called a lollipop.

Back in 2010 these phones were state-of-the-art…for the low end. But it could do pictures, voice, and even send your photos off to Kodak.

Kodak! Damn!  I was hitting the big time!

Within two days, I had it deciphered and was busy texting and calling away. The flip design would keep the sub-two-inch screen in stellar shape. All would be well again in my world.

Until, that is, I attended a nearby media event. Here, I realized brutal truth of my Luddite life.

I was the sole guy at the event without a smartphone. Not only that, I was the only journalist not typing away before the event began.

When the new car rolled out, they simply  snapped photos with their phones and sent them.

To online publications…to their social media pages…and probably a half-dozen other places thanks to various apps.

Me? I go and unsheath a 2005,  5-megapixel Sony digital camera, whose lens extends like a three-inch probe. I wait for the right exposure, take two pictures, and then the thing spontaneously seizes up in my hand like the relic it is.

Confession time: It wasn’t always like this for me; I used to be a hardcore technophile.

Party on Wayne!

Party on Wayne!

Twenty years ago, I was the first student at my college with a laptop. Thanks to it helping me overcome a fine motor impairment, my grades skyrocketed.  That’s Wayne by the way…

Technology was a beautiful thing in my life, and I almost accepted an offer with an IT consulting firm before my love for cars took over.

The car business, and the interrelated world of auto auctions, became my career, and I eventually became a ”tool guy” technologically.

If the hammer works, just keep on using it. Because “new” means “money”. And “nearly-new” means “nearly free.” And “old” means durable and often perfect for my limited needs.


A lot of long-time auto enthusiasts look at cars in much the same way. Older vehicles, especially those past a decade or even two, can perform the same functions as new models for a fraction of the cost.

Then again, you do miss a few pieces of technology as you go back in time: navigation, stability control, airbags. Everything from the steel polymers used to make vehicles, to the maintenance requirements for a daily driver, have changed substantially within the last ten years.

So here’s my question: Where do you draw the automotive line between old and new? Does a car with ABS, traction control, and dent resistant panels, like a 1992 Saturn, earn the right to be seen as a contemporary? Or does it have to Sync, Link, CUE and Think with mobile and hands-free technologies?

Where do you draw that line?

Oh, and if you happen to have a spare gold iPhone 5S with 30 times more gigabytes than my “pre-Ipod” computer, feel free to let me know.

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Former Apple VP To Aid Vehicle Development At Tesla Fri, 25 Oct 2013 14:16:44 +0000 tesla-model-sa_rIt seems as of late that Tesla is becoming to cars what Apple already is to computing, smartphones, digital music players and tablets. Thus, it should be as no surprise that the automaker has brought aboard former Apple vice president of Mac hardware engineering Doug Field to help them develop “insanely great” new vehicles.

“Doug has demonstrated the leadership and technical talent to develop and deliver outstanding products, including what are widely considered the best computers in the world,” said Tesla CEO Elon Musk in a press release. Musk went further to state that the future of the automaker is dependent upon engineering talents — such as the kind Field would bring to the table — that can help bring “the most innovative, technologically advanced vehicles in the world” to the masses, especially the kind that will be sold for $35,000 at the nearest Tesla boutique in the near future.

Field’s latest foray in the tech world marks a return to the automotive industry: His career began with Ford as an engineer, then a turn as CTO for Segway before segueing to One Infinite Loop in 2008. From there, Field led development on the MacBook Air and Pro, and the iMac.

“Until Tesla came along, I had never seriously considered leaving Apple,” said Field in the same press release. “I started my career with the goal of creating incredible cars, but ultimately left the auto industry in search of fast-paced, exciting engineering challenges elsewhere. As the first high tech auto company in modern history, Tesla is at last an opportunity for me and many others to pursue the dream of building the best cars in the world-while being part of one of the most innovative companies in Silicon Valley.”

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Apple announces “iOS in the Car” Mon, 10 Jun 2013 21:45:19 +0000 Apple Maps displaying in a car

Apple just announced a bunch of new stuff today as part of their annual developers conference. Most TTAC readers don’t really care that iOS7 is ditching the old skeuomorphic look (fake brushed metal, fake leather, etc.) for a flat design that is damn near identical to what Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows 8 have been doing. However, they’ll care about this.

Apple has announced “iOS in the Car” (TheVerge has a summary; see also Cnet, Engadget, Gizmodo). Apple didn’t say much, beyond a a few pretty screenshots and a list of car manufacturers who will support this in 2014. We don’t know if this will be an Apple-proprietary protocol or if it will be an open standard that Android and other phones can use. Regardless, we can expect non-Apple phones to be hacked in one way or another to work with this, assuming they’re willing to do battle with Apple’s patent portfolio.

This is a big deal. For the first time, we have car manufacturers conceding a significant part of the driver’s user experience to a device or company outside of their control. For example, if you buy the most alpha nerd car available today, a Tesla Model S with its monstrous 17″ touch screen, you have well-integrated Tesla-skinned Slacker and TuneIn Internet radio, complete with a secondary display of the current song next to your speedometer. Would you prefer Pandora or Google Music? Sorry, you’ll have to stream that through your phone, which won’t be anywhere near the same slick experience. In Apple’s new world order, your car is an accessory to your phone, which is exactly the way it should be. Many people replace their phones every time their two year contract comes up for renewal and some replace it even more often. Conversely, most any modern car should handily last ten years or more with the right tender loving care. You can go through five generations of phones in the same time that you go through a single car. Your phone keeps getting better and your car (generally speaking) doesn’t. Furthermore, as I go from my personal car to a rental car to whatever else (a taxi?), I get to take “my” navigation system and “my” music along for the ride, rather than learning my way around yet another car manufacturer’s dial that spins, clicks, slides, and otherwise goes out of its way to annoy the driver.

I’d previously been skeptical that something like this would ever come to pass. Why would a car manufacturer willingly allow themselves to be commoditized like this? Why would they willingly give up the chance to upsell their customers on monthly service charges? In the new world order, a third-party app installed on your phone could use the built-in accelerometer and GPS to figure out that you decelerated in a big hurry and probably had an accident, just like GM OnStar and other such manufacturer-provided subscription services do. Would you rather have that service attached to your car or to your phone? I’d vote for the phone, since it would be with me regardless of what car I happened to be in.

If I were king for a day, I’d not only push for the phone/car video interface to be standardized, but I’d also push for the car to provide specific sensors and data to the phone. For example, the car might feed your phone telemetry data (wheel angle, speedometer, tachometer, etc.), which can aid a navigation system that temporarily looses contact with the GPS satellites, or give you great feedback on your hot track laps. They might even consider providing deeper manufacturer-specific hooks to allow for over-the-air software updates. At that point, some interesting security threats rear their ugly heads, since the phone needs to be treated as a potentially hostile component within the otherwise-friendly world of the in-car network. Still, color me excited. I’ve wanted this for a long time.


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Apple, OEMs, Not On The Same Page With Siri Wed, 13 Jun 2012 18:15:09 +0000 A Fast Company article on in-car integration of Siri, Apple’s voice activated Artifical Intelligence system, revealed that despite Apple’s usage of their brands, a few manufacturers aren’t even aware of plans to use it on their vehicles, let alone within the 12 month timeframe that Apple had suggested.

The article quotes Chrysler as saying

“We haven’t seen the statements attributed to Apple and we have nothing to announce at this time,” a Chrysler spokesperson said by email. When pressed, the spokesperson would only add that “Chrysler does not comment on future product plans.”

Audi and Toyota were on the fence about what kind of timeline would be possible, while BMW said that mid-2013 is likely. Mercedes-Benz and GM said that things would happen in 12 months or less, with GM citing Chevrolet in particular as the first application.

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How Hemi Magic Made It To The iPhone (And Its Competitors) Wed, 18 Apr 2012 15:06:41 +0000

The chances are good that, as a TTAC reader, you use a smartphone. Among the literate, educated people who make up our reader base, ownership of a touch-screen phone with more computing power than a stack of DEC PDP-11s is the rule, not the exception. Google claims that over 250 million devices are running Android. Apple sold as many as 44 million iPhones in the past quarter. To some degree, the entire globe runs on these devices. Most of us couldn’t do our jobs or manage our lives without them.

The chances are not good that, as a TTAC reader, you own one of the two hundred and two 426 Hemi Super Stock “A990″ Dodge Corornets and Plymouth Belvederes built. 93 TorqueFlite Dodges, 8 four-speed stick Dodges, 85 TorqueFlite Belvederes, 16 four-speeds. They were up to five hundred pounds lighter than their non-A990 brethren and were known to turn quarter-mile times in the high ten-second range with trap speeds between one-twenty-five and one-thirty. Modern supercars like the GT-R and Ferrari 458 can’t hang with a 1965 Plymouth Belvedere. Think about that.

Now think about the fact that, without those ’65 Mopars, your smartphone wouldn’t work quite the same way it does today.

As produced, the so-called “A990″ Coronets and Belvederes were actually too light for the NHRA; they had to have a hundred-pound “off-road skidplate” added back to them in order to compete. Chrysler pulled out all the stops for their 1965 factory drag racer. They also pulled out everything from the rear seats (of course) to the passenger windshield wiper. That’s wasn’t enough. The NHRA wouldn’t permit the widespread use of aluminum body parts in a “stock” car, so Chrysler tried another tack at saving panel weight. A special run of body parts was stamped, using lightweight steel. As everybody who has ever tried to race a showroom-stock car around a road course or down the strip knows, however, the glass in a factory vehicle is murderously heavy.

Enter “Chemcor”, a special project from the Corning Glass company. According to Wikipedia, Chemcor is made as follows:

The glass is toughened by ion exchange. It is placed in a hot bath of molten potassium salt at a temperature of approximately 400 °C (~750 °F). Smaller sodium ions leave the glass, and larger potassium ions from the salt bath replace them. These larger ions take up more room and are pressed together when the glass cools, producing a layer of compressive stress on the surface of the glass… creating high compressive stress deep into the glass. This layer of compression creates a surface that is more resistant to damage from everyday use.

The A990 cars received Chemcor glass panes all the way ’round. The additional surface toughness allowed it to be much thinner while meeting the same impact requirements, although were Chrysler to pull the same trick in a Dart R/T today the NHTSA might have something to say about it. Come to think of it, the NHTSA might have had something to say about it back then, perhaps at lunch in the London Chop House or wherever such things were privately done, and as a result no Mopar, and no car, ever used Chemcor again. Corning put the process, and the results, away in its vault, and did not develop or sell any more products with Chemcor glass…

…until the day Steve Jobs came to visit. I will let Walter Issacson, Jobs’ biographer, take it from here, quoting a speech he gave after Jobs’ death:

Steve Jobs when he does the iPhone decides he doesn’t want plastic, he wants really tough glass on it, and they don’t make a glass that can be tough like they want. And finally somebody says to him, because they were making all of the glass in China for the fronts of the stores, says, “You ought to check with the people at Corning. They’re kind of smart there.” So, he flies to Corning, New York, sits there in front of the CEO, Wendell Weeks, and says, “This is what I want, a glass that can do this.” So, Wendell Weeks says, “We once created a type of process that created something called Gorilla Glass.” And Steve said, “No, no, no. Here’s how you make really strong glass.” And Wendell says, “Wait a minute, I know how to make glass. Shut up and listen to me.” And Steve, to his credit, shuts up and listens, and Wendell Weeks describes a process that makes Gorilla Glass. And Steve then says, “Fine. In six months I want enough of it to make–whatever it is–a million iPhones.” And Wendell says, “I’m sorry, we’ve actually never made it. We don’t have a factory to make it. This was a process we developed, but we never had a manufacturing plant to do it.” And Steve looks at him and says what he said to Woz, 20, 30 years earlier: “Don’t be afraid, you can do it.” … Wendell Weeks said he called his plant in Kentucky that was making glass for LCD screens, and said, “Start the process now, and make Gorilla Glass.” That’s why every iPhone in your pocket and iPad has Gorilla Glass made by Corning.

“Gorilla Glass” was a marketing gloss on “Chemcor”. In a way, the two names perfectly symbolize what’s changed in America since 1965. “Chemcor” just sounds all space-agey and forward-thinking, the sort of optimism that Donald Fagen sprinkles all the way through his “The Nightfly” solo record. “Gorilla Glass”, by contrast, has the sheen of explain-it-to-the-dumb-proles to it, a ridiculous exaggeration based on the idea that, while people might be frightened by chemicals, they have no problem feeling good about gorillas.

“Gorilla Glass” it is, and its use has expanded to dozens of other smartphones and small devices. I’ve personally spiderwebbed two Gorilla Glass phones, but check this: when I went to Palm Beach late last year, I accidentally (meaning drunkenly) walked into the ocean with a spiderwebbed Droid3 in my pocket, and the display didn’t short out. Good stuff, even if it can’t quite stand up to gorillas in smartphone-friendly thicknesses.

Best of all, although future Gorilla Glass production is likely to come from China, for the time being a lot of is it made right where it was invented: in the United States. American ingenuity, American production. Makes you feel good. Here’s another American idea: let’s go ahead and try it again, in a 350-horsepower, maxed-out, 2.4-turbo Dart. Call it the Super Stock. Light Chemcor glass, Quaife diff, no-fluff, quarter-mile-oriented. After all, there are still some of us who rank a kick-ass Mopar way above a not-so-simple smartphone.

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Don’t Eat The Apple, GM. Get The Girl Sat, 20 Aug 2011 13:48:16 +0000


When, a few days ago, I wrote my rant about GM wanting to be like Apple, I did a bad job. My point was not that GM can’t be like Apple because it doesn’t have an aluminum unibody, my point was not GM’s number of platforms, my point was not that GM wants to marginalize Opel by being Apple, my point was not that Ford is closer to being Apple, my point was not that Sony and its “Sony timer” will never be like Apple, my point was not that Apple is like BMW.

Apparently, I failed to get my point across.

My point was that any CEO or marketing manager who wants his company to be like another company should abdicate and apply for a job at that other company. Or that he should be taken out and shot, in an act of mercy killing.

My point was that GM should be like GM.

If you want to be the market leader, then you need to lead the market. If you ape other companies, you look like a monkey. Sure, there is nothing wrong with benchmarking and “adapting” a good idea or two. Do it, and keep it to yourself. But for heaven’s sake, don’t issue a press release!

In real life and marketing, there is one golden rule:

Be yourself.

And then, mercilessly refine and improve what you have got.

The core of branding is to be unique. Trying to be someone else is the antithesis of being unique, and a road to failure. Even the best Elvis impersonator will always be an impersonator, at best, he will be an impostor.

I was reminded of that by an email I received today by a good friend of mine (you know who you are), who knows a hell of a lot, and who throws a hell of a lot into the wind, including the rules of proper capitalization (of words.) He writes:

“sometimes i’m glad the auto chiefs say stupid things.  then the business papers sometimes write a good follow-up article.  thought you might find this to be interesting.” 

Attached was a link to a Postrel article in Bloomberg. A while ago, I would have thought a postrel is some kind of a dessert. Virginia Postrel is the author of “The Substance of Style”, and of “The Future and its Enemies”, two of the best business books you can buy. She is also the author of “To Be the Next Apple, Lose the Bafflegab,” the article we are talking about here.

Like me a few days ago, she notes that “everybody, it seems, wants to be like Apple.” Even “Google is buying Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc., many observers say, so it can integrate hardware and software to be like Apple.” And then she goes on a rant against pointless drivel and fluff, that makes me jump up from my chair, whack the table, and shout “Yessss, Virginia!”

“Strategy is not what many people think it is. It is not a fill-in-the-blanks mission statement blathering about how XYZ Corp. will ethically serve its stakeholders by implementing best-in-class integrated sustainable practices to grow as a global leader while maximizing shareholder value. Such bafflegab is “Dilbert“-fodder that generates cynicism and contempt. It is, at best, a big waste of time.”

Victoria explains the difference between a strategy, a mission statement, a goal, and the vision thing. These differences are often forgotten, confused, perverted, gang-raped.

A former old school Volkswagen manager of the Beetle era once told me (in private): “I only have visions when I’m drunk.”

He was a dinosaur from the olden days when VW was a bafflegab-free zone. He became part of the “biological solution” and made room for an army of PowerPointers with a Ph.D. in Dilbertology.

In closing, Virginia gives unpaid advice to GM and the legions of others who want to be like Apple:

“So if you really want to be like Apple, drop the fluff- filled vision statements and magical wishes. Pretend your company’s existence is at stake, coldly evaluate the environment, and make choices. Stop thinking of strategy as meaningless verbiage or financial goals and treat it as a serious design challenge.”

To which I may add:

And forget about being like Apple.

Simply be your best. Trust me, it’s hard enough.

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You Seriously Want To Be Like Apple, GM? Sun, 14 Aug 2011 17:48:12 +0000  

If I would have a dollar , euro, yen for each time a marketer says “we want to be the next Apple,” I’d be rich by now and could stop writing.

As you see, I am forced to continue.

Apple appears to be the brand to emulate.  But everybody thinks they saw it first. The last to do so was Joel Ewanick, Chief Marketing Officer of GM. He was lured away from Hyundai, because he was the man with the ideas. Now what is he doing? He joins the long line of marketing managers who just want their brand to be like Apple.

Joel, take a number:

Shall we go on?

London’s Daily Mail, assisted by the Bishop of Buckingham, thinks it knows what marketers want when they want to be like Apple: Blind faith. It’s the wet dream of every marketer:

“The desire for iPods and iPads can occasionally border on the religious. An MRI scan of an Apple fanatic’s brain has found the same part lit up as a believer’s did when they gazed upon religious imagery.”

The Daily Mail is not the only to complain. “We so often hear ‘we want to be like Apple or Google,’ the success stories of today,” writes Forbes. Forbes has a less complicated explanation for the lust for Apples. Forbes says it’s pure nostalgia:

“Production lines hummed and capitalism flourished.  Millions of Americans literally bought into the American dream, enjoying new levels of comfort and security. Diligent workers toiled on production lines or equally mechanized corporate machines.

This was the time of BIG things in the US. Big government, big population growth, big ambitions and big civic construction projects sprang up.

In truth, it was a time when the world’s biggest economy was then a young, dynamic, fast growing market.”

It also was the time when things like the Apple computer were invented. By hippies in a garage. While  lusting for Apples, we secretly want the boom times of the boomers back. But you can’t just say “I want to be Apple,” and the paradise lost comes trotting back. Continues Forbes:

“Fast forward to 2011, America now competes in a fierce global market against young and dynamic economies. New companies emerge as world leaders such as India’s Tata, and new brands take top spot like China’s Snow Beer which is now the biggest selling beer in the world.

In addition to this, the US is suffering from a seriously stalled economy, job losses, and corporate giants losing their way. To top it off, in many parts of the world Brand America is now viewed with alarming degrees of vehemence.”

Don’t try to be like Apple. The secret to branding is to create ye olde Unique Selling Proposition. You don’t want to emulate a produce department of wannabe Apples. Not unless you have read and observed that other USP when taking medications. It’s not THOSE tablets we are after.

You don’t want to be like Apple, GM. Apples rot if left unsold for a few weeks.

You want to be the biggest, baddest, and most successful car company in the universe.

For that, you need something simple, yet hard:

You want your own good ideas.

Or in the words of another trite but true campaign:

You don’t want to be like Apple. Try harder.

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Book Review: Where The Suckers Moon Thu, 14 Oct 2010 21:56:07 +0000

Book Reviewed: Where the Suckers Moon: An Advertising Story, by Randall Rothenberg, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994, 477 pages.

I don’t know what you get out of the current Subaru Legacy ad campaign, but what I get out of it is: “The Subaru Legacy is so banal, and sucks so unrepentantly hard, that we had to put extra crap on an old Kia Optima to create an alternative you wouldn’t automatically prefer.” This is not the first time Subaru has pointed a shotgun at its own feet, nor is it likely to be the last.

Where The Suckers Moon is, primarily, a story about advertising, but along the way we get a true sense of Subaru itself: a company stumbling from failure to failure, forever being rescued by market conditions, outrageously misinformed buyer perception, and completely random factors. It’s simply a company that is too lucky to fail, no matter how hard it tries.

Although it was originally just another one of the infamous Malcolm Bricklin’s get-poor-quick schemes, Subaru of America found itself an unwitting beneficiary of circumstances beyond its control. An early adoption of part-time 4WD, done at the suggestion of the Japanese Post Office, made the little “DL” and “GL” the darlings of the Northeastern ski set and those who wished to emulate them. Later on, the Voluntary Restraint Agreement meant that every Japanese car that could find its way onto a boat would eventually be sold at a healthy profit somewhere.

Subaru’s almost unbelievably bad advertising tagline, “Inexpensive, and built to stay that way”, wasn’t a bad way to sell extremely cheap cars as sixteenth-birthday gifts to bi-curious Vermont coeds, but as the rising yen pushed prices through the roof, Subaru decided to reinvent itself as a “desire” brand. Their subsequent choice of “Just Do It” creators Wieden+Kennedy, and the “What To Drive” campaign that follows, provides the meat of Randall Rothenberg’s delightful liitle book.

Time and again, Subaru reveals itself to be the most hilariously incompetent of Japanese automakers. In one vignette, Rothenberg describes how a Japanese designer proudly shows a visiting Subaru of America delegation the interior of the new XT, noting that he put in checkerboard seat fabric “for the American dude.” Another chapter details how Wieden+Kennedy’s “visionary” television director refuses to actually put any shots of the Subaru Legacy in his commercial, focusing instead on homoerotic shots of sweaty, muscular line workers.

Caught between the bumbling Japanese and the insane “creatives” are the Subaru dealers, most of them hucksters and confidence men who couldn’t get a Toyota dealership in the Seventies. Their simplest desires are repeatedly frustrated. They want more no-equipment sedans; Subaru gives them the SVX. They want regional advertising to move cars before summer sets in; Subaru spends the money on a magazine ad campaign for which they are later forced to apologize to everybody from MADD to the NHTSA.

At one point in the book, the author cannot restrain himself any longer and states a simple fact: Subarus are primarily sold to people who cannot afford (or, in the VRA era, cannot get) a Honda or Toyota. While that was entirely true in the early Nineties, we are now familiar with Subaru as the people who bring you the WRX, STi, and Legacy GT, to say nothing of the Outback and Forester which actually keep the lights burning at the stars-and-swoosh dealerships.

Still, as we take a look at the way in which Subaru continually manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory (look at the STi and current Outback for some great examples) it’s worth noting that reality as described in Where The Suckers Moon hasn’t completely disappeared. It’s worth a read for any number of reasons. And for those of you pointing to Subaru’s current sales success as a refutation of everything I’ve said above… well, perhaps you’re right, but I’d recommend checking Rothenberg’s work out anyway. TTAC readers have recommended it no less than four times in the comments section. Consider this a fifth thumbs-up.

Available on Amazon.

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