What Comes Next After the iPhone Gold Rush?

Ethan Nicholas spent six weeks last summer working on an application for the iPhone on the evenings and over weekends. In October, he released the app – a simple first-person shooter game – for $4.99. In the five months since it was released, Nicholas has made $800,000.
Todd Moore, a network administrator in the Washington, DC, area, developed his own iPhone app after buying his first Mac early last year. He quit his day job after he started making more money in one week than he had been making in four months.
The makers of a software program for the iPhone called “iFart” have been raking in about $1,000 a day with a program that – how do I put this gently? – makes farting sounds.
It some circles, it’s beginning to sound more like 1999 – the era of dot com’s and IPO’s — than it does 2009, the era of bailouts and diving stock market prices.
In spite of what’s happening in the world at large, excitement around the iPhone development market has some people around Silicon Valley buzzing. The New York Times stoked the frenzy this weekend by publishing “The iPhone Gold Rush,” which chronicled the iPhone hysteria. The hype has gotten so extreme, even corporate lawyers are getting into the act, giving up big paychecks for the promise of another payday.
I have no doubt the iPhone mania will continue to grow. However, some are already turning their attention to the next platform which could lead to the next gold rush, a field which could be just as big (dare I say bigger than?) as the iPhone.
I’m talking about dashboards.
Before you rush to download your ipitchfork and burn me at the istake for iheresy, let me explain.
Last night, I had the privilege of attending the Tesla Model S northern California debut party, held at the company’s sprawling Menlo Park sales and assembly offices.
Around 300 Tesla owners and Tesla wannabe owners (I include myself in the latter) gathered to feel, touch, and ride in the new Model S sedan.
Although I had been excited for the unveiling of the Model S due to its promise of becoming the first real, practical mass-market zero-emission vehicle, once the actual vehicle was released, I found myself actually more fascinated with the car’s touchscreen dashboard.
If you haven’t seen it, the dashboard is beautiful. Where some carmakers place a jumble of buttons and knobs sits a gleaming, 17-inch haptic touchscreen LCD display, which controls all of the car’s functions. The touchscreen features always-on high-speed 3G internet connection, Google maps, streaming radio, and completely digital climate controls.
Even though I thought Tesla did a masterful job in developing the touchscreen dashboard, I couldn’t help but think what was possible if Tesla were to open up that interface to outside developers, as Apple has done with the iPhone.
As Apple has recently discovered with its iPhone app store, even a wildly creative company can’t compete with the limitless creativity of a worldwide audience when you open up your platform to the world.
Unfortunately, after the sedan first debuted, I didn’t know if Tesla even intended to open up the interface. All I had were a few subtle indications from various sources regarding the company’s plans for the touchscreen.
In a short video posted by Steve Jurvetson documenting his first ride in the vehicle (see video below), Tesla CEO Elon Musk is seen saying that he “had people writing app’s for the car.” He later implied in an interview that they would open up the interface to outside developers, saying “Maybe other people will develop applications for it.” But I still wasn’t sure if Tesla truly intended to allow all outside developers to develop their own programs, or if Tesla would control the process.
At the party, I seized the opportunity to get an answer from Musk himself. I told the Tesla leader that I’d heard his comment in the video and was wondering if it was true that he planned to open up the interface to outside developers. He confirmed that Tesla did in fact intend to open up the dashboard to outside developers. He went on to say that the screen could be configured to a driver’s liking, and that the computer running the dashboard would be Linux-based. He suggested that consumers may even be able to watch YouTube videos on their displays in the future.
I believe that Tesla is incredibly savvy to open up the interface to outside developers. Like Apple, Tesla will benefit from the amazing wealth of talent that will come forward to develop new and innovative uses for a dashboard computer in a car – uses which one company operating alone could never anticipate.
Today, consumers are buying iPhones not just for the groundbreaking device itself, but to take advantage of the many innovative app’s which have been developed which run on the phone. As a result, Apple is profiting off others’ innovation and creativity. Tesla may similarly benefit.
Developers, start your engines.