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Apple, the auto industry needs your help

Perhaps Apple should approach car companies with a new division to create passenger environments. 

In an online journal (, Alan Cooper, founder of the Cooper interactive design consultancy, says the Ford Motor Company has “just convincingly demonstrated that being an excellent industrial manufacturer doesn’t automatically mean that you are an excellent maker of digital technology.”

Despite Ford’s improvements in manufacturing quality, their overall ratings fell drastically this year due solely to the poor software interaction on their dashboards, he says. What’s more, a recent article ( in the “New York Times” discusses Ford’s plummeting fall in user rankings this year, focusing the blame on their new touch screen interface.

“Primarily, the steep decline was attributed to consumer complaints about MyFord and MyLincoln Touch, the company’s in-car telematics systems that use a touch screen, dashboard display and voice commands presumably to help drivers operate radio and climate controls, as well as the navigation system,” says the “Times.”

Imagine an Apple automotive division that develops a version of OS X or iOS for use in such navigation systems. The company has already conquered — or is working to conquer — the music, video, phone, ebook, e-magazine and (kinda) games worlds, so why not the automotive scene, at least from a software perspective.

Ford’s troubles follow a familiar pattern of older, industrial companies struggling with digital age problems, says Cooper, who notes that the challenges of digital technology, particularly its human-facing aspects, can’t successfully be addressed with technical skills rooted in manufacturing. The digital computer is increasingly dominating the driver’s attention, even more so than the steering and brakes, he adds.

“If auto makers don’t give equivalent attention to the design and implementation of these digital systems, they will fail, regardless of the quality of the drive train, interior furnishings, and other manufactured systems,” says Cooper. “A major obstacle in Ford’s way is their failure to understand that software design and development is neither an engineering problem nor a styling problem, and that all of their significant expertise in these disciplines won’t help them with telematics. An even bigger impediment is Ford’s failure to understand that the very structure of their product development teams, optimized for old-school engineering-and-styling, stands in the way of fielding effective digital development teams.”

Perhaps Ford’s head honchoes should give Steve Jobs a call.

I’m certain Apple isn’t going to make its own automobile (sorry if you were hoping for an iCar or iDrive). That said, would you feel safer if OS X/iOS or Windows were the software driving your car?

— Dennis Sellers

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