Upgradeability, Extensibility, and the Re-Sale Market

Years ago, when I was about to lease an SUV, I remember asking myself, “Why doesn’t Apple make a car?” My thought process was that if Apple made a car, I could be pretty sure the user experience was going to be amazing, the technology was going to be stellar, and the customer service would be unlike anything the auto industry has today.

Fast-forward to today, and I actually just bought a Certified Pre-Owned BMW. It’s a great car, but I once again wished that the technology parts of the car had been designed by people who really understand modern-day software design. The lesson for all of us is that there is a new standard of software upgradeability and extensibility that exists in our everyday devices (i.e., tablets and cellphones) and other industries that have integrated software are falling way behind. If your company is one of these industries that are “tangential” to the software industry, you cannot afford to ignore the software revolution that has taken place on other platforms.

The car I bought came pretty loaded with technology, but there are a number of options that are missing. For example, BMW has something called “BMW Apps,” which is a software module that connects to a smartphone and displays things like Twitter on the dashboard. This was not included in my car (the original owners didn’t choose it), so it’s not in the car. It’s a software add-in, and to the best of my knowledge requires no other hardware.

If the software system were designed by Apple or anyone else with a sense of how software is created these days, the computer system would allow me to buy this functionality and have it added immediately. The system already has the ability to update its own software via an “Update” menu option, so there is an idea of changing out the software already. Why, then, can’t I add a module?

As another example, BMW has a service option called BMW Online that one must subscribe to separately. Once subscribed, options existing on the dashboard (but that are greyed out), work. Again, this means that the core idea exists: that there are services one can add on, which will enable parts of the dashboard computer.

If the BMW Online infrastructure can exist in the car, hoping that someone chooses to upgrade their service, then why can’t other technical options?

I understand that adding hardware might be difficult. For example, I was told it would be nearly impossible to add the various cameras that came as options for the car. That’s because they require wiring and possibly new parts that are made to house this equipment.

The question here is: Why does it have to be like this? Certified Pre-Owned cars are a huge part of the car business. It seems like a glaring waste of a profit center for a car manufacturer to make cars that are not easily upgradeable once they have left the factory. For example, my car probably has $10,000 to $15,000 worth of upgrades that were not chosen when the car was bought. If this is a car I plan on keeping for a long time, it is completely reasonable to think that over time I might want to invest money into souping up the car. After all, that’s why the entire after-market world of products and services exists.

It’s a huge design flaw that these cars are not easily upgradeable, either in terms of software or hardware. Why not design a camera system and wiring such that I can easily add a camera later? If after-market people have figured this out, so can manufacturers.

I will bet that if the onboard computer system were replaced by an iPad, much of this would be possible. Why? Because the software would have to be upgradable and changeable to adapt to the features enabled in for the car, and it couldn’t be a “hard-wired” set of features.

Most online companies are using embeddable technologies now. Whether that means you have an iPhone app or you make a product that has its own user interface, this applies to you. In-app purchases and regularly upgraded software are now the standard in the industry. Whether you operate a website, have an app, or produce any other integrated device (be it a car, a refrigerator, or fancy thermostat), you need to give users the extensibility to which they are now accustomed. And if you create products that have a re-sale market, don’t lose out on making money from your products’ second owners because you failed to create a system that allowed for that idea.

Until next time…

Image via Shutterstock.

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