We were happy to let the tech press gush over the 10th anniversary of the iPhone last month. Like doting parents, they continue to regard each milestone in the iPhone's brief life as a cause for celebration, apparently ignorant of the engineering miracles required to design and build a modern motor vehicle.
Nonetheless, on this occasion at least, we ought to acknowledge the profound influence the youthful iPhone has had over the century-old auto industry.
Some of it is good. But not all of it.
Mobility: The automobile has long been a symbol of mobility — physical, economic and societal. But its potential has been substantially unlocked by the mobile phone.
Two of the principal models of what we now know as mobility services have the iPhone-style smartphone at their core: Car-sharing services such as Maven require a smartphone app to reserve, unlock and start the rental car. Ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft (and possibly the autonomous taxis of the future) connect rides with passengers by combining the many capabilities of the smartphone, including GPS locators, maps, messaging and mobile payments.
As a gateway to mobility services, the good smartphone is becoming that manifestation of personal freedom that the automobile once was. The industry's sales and marketing machines must adapt to the idea that for many people, not owning a car can now be far more liberating than owning one.
Distraction: Vehicle deaths are on the rise again in the U.S., after decades of decline. While safety regulators attribute this to all manner of distractions behind the wheel, the ever-tempting smartphone is a leading suspect.
From the start, the iPhone has proved irresistible to teen drivers and to plenty of experienced ones who ought to know better. News alerts that used to come over the radio between songs ("Beyonce's twins born!") now pop up on a phone screen, all but demanding to be read.
Despite the widespread use of hands-free technology and public-service announcements, drivers are still steering with phones in hand, where they can serve as messaging devices, video players or game machines.
It's this phenomenon, this reversal of a longtime trend toward safer roads, that has set us on the quest for self-driving vehicles. If humans can't be trusted to focus on the road — and laws and PSAs can't make them change their behavior — then a computer must be assigned that task.