Remember what the App Store did for the iPhone? A similar seismic shift may well be on the horizon for the automotive industry.
Ford and Google announced today that the two companies would be entering a wide-ranging six-year partnership to modernize Ford's vehicle experience. Ford will now use Google as its preferred cloud vendor, and lean on the company's Android operating system for Ford's in-car systems. Starting in 2023, Ford and Lincoln vehicles will have access to the Google Play Store, including an ecosystem of apps designed specifically for owning and operating cars.
Earlier this year, Ford's first serious electric vehicle, the Mustang Mach-E, started rolling off the production line and into dealerships. It's a car that's hamstrung by the fact that Ford outsourced the charging experience to third-party companies and relied on its own software development for its operating system. The partnership with Google can likely solve at least one of these issues.
Google's apps and services will be built into Ford's systems moving forward, like Google Maps and Google Assistant, and the two companies are looking into using Google's prowess with AI to modernize the actual process of building cars. Access to the Play Store could well lead to a boom in app development for cars that could shift them from being machines that take us from point A to B to devices that help people live and work. "Really it's the best of both worlds," David McClelland, VP of strategy and partnerships at Ford, said of bringing Google's expertise into the Ford development process during a press conference. (The news also comes just a few weeks after a similar link-up between GM and Microsoft was announced.)
But as Ford and other automakers shift to electric vehicles, making the charging experience as close to the gas station experience will also be key. Right now, it's not there, and although leaning on Google's software will likely make it easier to find the right charging stations for your vehicle, more work needs to be done to make charging more seamless. Battery and quick-charge technology needs to improve — and Microvast, one company looking to solve that, separately announced it was going public Monday. Plus, a recent announcement from the Biden administration that it plans to electrify the hundreds of thousands of vehicles that the U.S. government owns has the potential to spur further innovation in the charging infrastructure industry.
Mike Murphy (
@mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.