NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The latest mega-fad in the automotive business is the so-called connected car. Basically, in a variety of ways, the car is to become one big smartphone, always connected to some service in the network, and remotely monitored. Even self-driving, eventually.
The trend toward the connected car is terribly bad, superfluous and even a danger to our liberties and national security. But I have a solution that could make car companies happy and satisfy different consumers' preferences.
What is this misguided combination of connected car services that are being foisted upon the automotive buyer at a rapidly increasing pace?
- Infotainment services. The purpose of these seems to be to copy everything that you're already doing on your smartphone -- but with a multi-year lag.
- Assisted driving. The purpose of this category is to approach the self-driving car nirvana step by step over the next decade or two. The car will help you steer, accelerate and brake so that you don't crash into anything or anybody.
- Remote monitoring. This means monitoring your car, so that if you have Alzheimer's or can't remember where your car is, you can find it in the parking lot. It also means you can have your car stopped and recovered if it has been stolen.
At a minimum, these new functionalities are being pushed by auto companies who want to sell the consumer new and expensive options. Egged on by semiconductor companies who would like to sell more chips, sensor companies who want a radar, camera and laser poking out of every kind of device under the sun, and envious of the power of the big Internet cloud and social companies such as Google (GOOG) and Facebook (FB), the car companies view the connected car as a new way to sell you a more expensive vehicle.
Let me debunk the connected car bubble step by step.
We are now being told that every car needs a cellular data modem (4G/LTE) and a built-in computer that can host exactly the same kind of apps and functionalities that my smartphone already has. This is completely redundant even at the outset.
I already have all of these things in my smartphone. Perhaps I want to connect my smartphone to the car's speaker system. That's about it. Why would I want to pay twice for computer hardware, apps and connectivity? I know why AT&T (T) wants me to pay for an additional data plan, but my interests and AT&T's interests are, um, not exactly aligned here.
Plus, the car will also always be hopelessly behind the smartphone in terms of capabilities. The car's infotainment system takes years to develop and bring to market, whereas a new smartphone takes less than a year.
The car companies understand that buyers know their car hardware take longer to upgrade than a smartphone. Therefore, their newest argument is that the car will be software upgradeable. Well, good luck with that! My smartphone doesn't get upgrades for more than two to four years, and then it's time to buy new hardware if you want to run competitive software.
In other words, there comes a point -- long before the car is written off -- where you need to upgrade not just the software, but also the hardware, in order to have a shot at being competitive. Given how a car is engineered, that will not be as easy as it is to pick up Apple's (AAPL) iPhone 6 to replace the iPhone 5.
At a minimum, this stuff will take time and be costly. People are already stretched trying to upgrade their smartphone every two years. The car is made to last a lifetime, although you might only own it three to 15 years.
Another argument that is made is that hands-free devices prevent driver distraction and increase safety. That argument doesn't hold water either. A person knows how to operate his or her smartphone with ease. In contrast, the most distracting thing is to try to learn the car's interface. This is why almost nobody uses the car's interface for anything, given that the smartphone can do the same things so much better anyway.
Furthermore, many people simply don't want the car to have any infotainment electronics, even if they are free and have a better interface than the smartphone. Every time I drive a decades-old car, with no electronics at all, it feels like a detox. No menus to learn, no settings to worry about -- just the purity of the drive, perhaps with a simple radio knob.
In other words, some people would pay more for a car with no more infotainment electronics than a 20-year-old car used to have.
Assisted Driving and, Eventually, Self-Driving Cars
There is something emasculating about a self-driving car. Are people not going to be required to be able to do anything at all anymore? What's next, a robot spooning cereal into your mouth?
Our parents were called upon to drill for natural resources, generate electricity, build the Hoover Dam and storm the beaches at Normandy under heavy gunfire. One day in the future, if our children were called upon to drive a car, they may jump like a scared cat. Assisted driving and self-driving cars are two steps in creating a new Girlie Man generation, an Americanized version of the Japanese hikikomori who plays computer games all day long and never sets foot outside, unable to accomplish anything useful in life.
The prospect of future Americans becoming incapable of driving a car is a sad statement about where our society is drifting. Will there be anything left for the human being to be able to do?
Remote Monitoring of Cars
The ability for some entity to locate your car and turn it off has truly scary implications. Have you seen the movie Red Dawn (1984), in which the U.S. was invaded by the Soviet army? Imagine if a foreign power were able to locate our vehicles and turn them off! We would become totally defenseless. We would be unable to offer any resistance.
The potential for hacking, car disabling, and spying is just too great.
My point is this: By the time we don't want someone to remotely track or control/disable our cars, it will be too late. It will be like not having had the sense to leave Germany by 1939.
We are of course told that our data is safe and that it will not be used or misused by our own government, let alone a foreign power. Come on! If there is something we should have learned over the last couple of years with the whole NSA debacle, its that those who have those databases -- whether AT&T or some equivalent company -- will be forced to surrender their networks to the political power when they are told that they must.
I propose that we create a surefire off-switch in our cars that will disable all of the car's communication with the outer world. I would like to see a large manual switch in the dashboard, perhaps looking like one of those old analog tube amplifiers where you could pull a lever and create a visible air gap between the tubes. That way, you could actually see that the car is now off-net and beyond the reach of remote tracking and disabling.
To many in the car industry, my skepticism and warnings about the perils of the connected car may sound completely Looney Toons. This is also what was said about British Parliamentarian Winston Churchill in the 1930s, as he warned about the perils of the German leader with the funny moustache.
"For what purpose does the right honorable member rise?"
My answer: "Mr Speaker, I rise in opposition to the connected car!"
At the time of publication, the author was long on GOOG and AAPL, but held no positions in any of the other stocks mentioned.
This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.