Posted on December 05, 2017 by Matt Pressman
Guest Blog Post: Galileo Russell*
When Tesla [NASDAQ: TSLA] unveiled the Model 3 in early 2016, people were shocked at the minimalism and simplicity of the car's interior. Everything in the car is controlled through a single touchscreen.
When compared to a 2016 BMW 3 series, the difference is striking.
The reason for Tesla's departure from industry norms can be analyzed from two different angles.
Why no buttons?
The first reason is Tesla's newcomer status. The company has no legacy to attach itself to — therefore they were able to start from scratch when designing the Model 3. This is a big reason Tesla was able to (so easily) depart from the status quo.
The second reason is Tesla's big bet on software. Every little nuance on the Model 3 is controllable via software through the touchscreen. If everything is activated via tapping, some may construe this as burdensome — perhaps even a step backwards. Certain tasks require several swipes/taps, where a button could be simpler. Beyond a clunkier user interface, it's conceivable this could add to driver distraction.
But when you start to think about where the future of transport (autonomous) and technology (voice) are headed, Tesla's strategy starts to make a lot of sense.
Voice is coming
In 2014, Amazon created a new tech product category with the launch of its Alexa enabled smart speaker. Since then, the company has sold an estimated 15M units, and boasts an impressive 75% marketshare.
But it's not just Amazon. As this chart from Recode shows, the cat is out of the bag and the era of voice is coming quickly. Most large tech companies have accepted that voice is the future and are beginning to arrange their product lineups accordingly.
Source: Recode via Jackdaw Research
As the functionality and software behind smart speakers improves, their value is becoming undeniable.
Using a hands-free voice approach is quickly becoming the de facto interface for how we control our homes. Everything from turning on the lights, to ordering an uber, to checking the news can be done with a smart speaker.
The selling point to consumers is clear. Voice saves time and energy, and therefore its incredibly convenient for a huge array of tasks.
Beyond the home, the car seems like the next logical step for voice interactions. Fiddling with buttons, nobs, (or even a touchscreen) while driving can be distracting, and seems far more burdensome than simply asking for what you want to happen.
These commands aren't that complicated, and make for a much more frictionless driving experience. When combining voice commands and an autonomous car, the synergies are very compelling.
Imagine in 2025 hopping into your car and telling it where to take you and what entertainment to play.
Enter the AI assistant: Jarvis
Tesla's theoretical assistant Jarvis (who I'm naming Tony Stark's AI assistant in Iron Man) fits seamlessly into this future.
Source: One Reach
Talking to your car about what you want seems like the most natural and frictionless riding experience. As a luxury brand, Tesla should settle for nothing less.
Fiddling with radio stations, entering directions into a navigation system and even controlling temperatures will seem archaic in this new AI assistant era.
The beauty of Tesla's software-first interior design approach is that it's set up perfectly to adapt to an AI assistant when the company is ready.
With everything in the car controlled by software, eventually an AI assistant will have access the most useful features and settings that passengers would need.
Tesla can upgrade cars remotely via over-the-air software updates and slowly introduce an AI with increasing functionality over time.
Where will Tesla get the money!?!
I can already foresee the biggest complaint — Tesla doesn't have the money. They're already capital constrained with Model 3 production and have a million other things on their plate. For the most part I agree, and it's likely impractical for Tesla to dedicate meaningful resources to this right now.
That said, Elon's vision for Tesla and the future of transportation is grandiose (to say the least) and a world with autonomous electric cars taking us from point A to B seems a natural fit for voice.
Tesla needs to be thinking about this future and invest in a program like this if the Model 3 continues to be successful. So even if now is not the time to ramp spending on Jarvis, the day is quickly approaching.
Tesla should launch an AI assistant
Given Elon Musk's visionary nature, and this interesting clue in Tesla's Q3 2017 shareholder letter, my personal guess is that Tesla's already working on an AI assistant.
But even if they're not, I strongly believe it should be on the company's road map.
Tesla's brand image is one of being a software-first car company of the future. This means staying one step ahead of the curve and delivering a superior driving experience.
Having a proprietary AI assistant will become a necessary piece of this puzzle as cars continue to become more and more like smartphones.
"Now Jarvis take me to the Gigafactory! I think Elon still needs help on Model 3 production!"
*Guest Blog Post: Galileo Russell is a 24 year-old Tesla shareholder based in NYC. He has been blogging about Tesla since 2012, and is the founder of HyperChange TV, a new YouTube channel about tech and finance news for millennials.