July 18, 2009

Servicing the car

GränsgatanI earlier blogged about the future of cars being robotic. My friend Waldemar blogs in Voltaire (in Swedish) an interesting criticism: do we really want a car, or do we want the service of the car?

As long as owning a car is an important status symbol and a way of signaling who you are, the car itself and its status-enhancing features are important. Similarly, when cars are expensive and hard to get, then having ownership is important. But there is no reason to own the car when the car is relatively cheap, anonymous and just a way of getting from point A to B flexibly.

I recently heard about one electric car project where the expensive part was the batteries, not the car. Basically it was a service: you subscribe to batteries and recharging stations, and get the car more or less for free. Similarly, why keep all the smarts I discuss in my blog in the car, when it might make sense to keep much of it in the cloud? There are of course safety reasons why we want to keep some smarts in the car, and we will not give up control over the access to the car easily. But the idea that we have to own all of the car, that it is a material thing rather than a distributed service, that seems to be questionable.

An interesting point, which I think makes much sense. We are seeing similar trends when people are putting their data and software into the cloud, sacrificing absolute control for distributed convenience. Housing may be moving more slowly in this direction since the wealth and status link is so strong, but as someone who have always rented I find the idea of housing as service to be natural. I wouldn't be surprised to see other areas of life also turn into services: people already subscribe to organic vegetable deliveries and get their books sent home. In a while the books will instead all be on an ebook reader, just like Spotify is removing the music collection in favor of a service.

But as the Kindle 1984 debacle shows, we better get some protections for our access too. Services can be broken far too easily right now, especially in the world of not entirely stable business models and IP regimes we are living in. Fixing the legal and contractual stability will be necessary for the services to roll onto the roads.

Posted by Anders3 at July 18, 2009 06:03 PM