QOTD: Do You Care for Over-the-air?

vwConnectivity is one of those special buzzwords used across most industries, whether it be for a virtual meeting app, a washing machine, or a car. All companies seem to think we need more of it. Today we want to know — are you a fan of cars that come equipped with over-the-air update connectivity?

It seems a lot of people are in favor of ever-increasing connectivity, and require it even in the most mundane of appliances. I realized this while shopping for a water heater about three years ago. Reading the reviews, I expected most details to be about the quality of the water heater and if it was an efficient user of electrons. Instead, several users marked off a star or two because it didn’t feature Wi-fi connectivity. I’d never considered before how a water heater might need such connectivity, so I bought the model without it.

Since then I’ve been utterly devastated on multiple occasions when I couldn’t check the status of my water heater from bed, or at work. Or not…

This question was prompted by news reported yesterday about the new Ford Mustang Mach-E and its over-the-air updates. Manufacturers claim the advantages of such connectivity are great: Updates and improvements can be made to your car without your intervention (or knowledge). Patches in the software can fix problems before you encounter them, saving you stress and anxiety about the weak points of your car. And additional features of later software versions can be added to your older vehicle, bringing it up to par with the latest new product at dealer lots. It’s a win-win!

The downside here is the potential to charge you up front for tech which never arrives (ahem, Tesla), or to remove software the initial customer paid for when the car is resold to an unsuspecting second party (again, Tesla). A third concern is arising presently in the case of Volkswagen and the not-ready-will-ship ID.3. Because updates are downloadable and limitless, manufacturers will launch their product as an unfinished beta test, asking consumers to pony up full asking price for a car with incomplete software and features.

This consumers-as-testers methodology has occurred in the video game industry already, usually called “early access.” In many examples (which have escalated in frequency over the past five years or so), a developer put their game out in early access before it was finished. The promise is always that the final game will be completed soon, and released at no additional charge to the early access buyers. Sometimes the game is improved, finalized, and released. But other times it becomes abandonware, after the newly funded developer makes a nice return on their investment and moves on.

I can see this happening more and more in cars equipped with over-the-air in the future. When updates are unlimited and relatively low-cost, there’s less incentive to get the product right before consumers go and buy it. Just fix it later, no big deal.

What do you think about over-the-air connectivity? Is it a great way for product to be continually supported and improved by manufacturers? Or is it mostly a way to rush product to market and exercise greater control over access to features?

[Image: VW]

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