Smartphones, MP3 players, tablets, laptops, netbooks—modern consumers never leave the house without more electronics than Robocop. We're addicted to using and spending money on mobile devices, which might explain why automakers lately can't stop trying to capture some of that trillion-dollar market for themselves.
To wit: Today Microsoft and Toyota announced a strategic partnership to build the "ultimate 'mobile device.'" Touted as a 1 billion yen investment in Toyota Media Service (a lot more catchy than saying $12 million), the partnership will have both companies team up to build a global cloud platform to support next-gen telematics in Toyota's hybrid and plug-in vehicles.
"As the car increasingly becomes the ultimate 'mobile device' for consumers," said Microsoft in a statement, "telematics technologies can allow drivers to start their cars remotely, turn on their AC from a cell phone, check systems within the car and much more."
So just when did the car become a "mobile device?"
When Fast Company covered Ford Sync—the technology that's giving cars access to social networks and more—in our April issue, we referred to it as the "new foundation for the ultimate mobile device." Several years ago, Nissan launched a multi-million-dollar ad campaign to show off its Nissan Cube as "mobile device," too, highlighting the vehicle's features with techy puns ("storage capacity," "search engine").
"This is a tough time to bring anything out, whether a car or a new TV," Kerry Feuerman, a group creative director for the firm behind the Nissan campaign, TBWA/Chiat/Day, told The New York Times in 2009. "So we decided we wouldn’t think about it as a car…[but] position it as designed to bring young people together—like every mobile device they have."
(Incidentally, TBWA/Chiat/Day is also the creative agency for the iPhone.)
And only last week, BMW announced its plans to launch a tech incubator in New York City with a $100 million venture fund. The idea? To seed innovations in mobile and location-based services. When I met with executives at BMW to discuss the announcement, they referred to the car multiple times as a "mobile device."
The idea clearly is to impress upon consumers that the automobile is now more than four wheels and an engine. Nissan, BMW, Toyota—no longer simply automakers. These companies make expensive, high-tech gadgets—cars—just like Apple makes iPhones: devices with GPS, with sleek dashboard and UIs, capable of playing music and social networking and downloading apps.
Oh, and did we mention they can also drive really fast?
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