The trillion-hour attention economy (and where the Apple Car fits in)

Morgan Stanley estimates that the time humans spend inside cars will reach 1.2 trillion hours by 2040.

Apple, iOS, mobile, enteprise, car

It’s more than just a car, of course, and when Apple does eventually begin to sell the vehicle it is spending billions to develop, we’ll find the future of transport is as different as the future of mobile phones turned out to be with iPhone.

It’s not about vehicles, it’s about attention

What’s at stake is human attention. Think about it. A Morgan Stanley team of analysts, including noted Apple analyst Katy Huberty, estimates that by 2040 the time humans spend inside cars will reach 1.2 trillion hours a year, up from 600 billion today. (There is some evidence this may be an underestimate.)

Those hours are pretty much dead time right now. We listen to radio and podcasts, enjoy a little music, and passengers might read books, watch movies, or play games. But vehicles aren’t really designed to be productive spaces. Their entire design paradigm is built around their function as comfortable travelling machines.

But the future vehicle should be more than this. Morgan Stanley speculates that this future sees vehicles become immersive VR experiences powered by supercomputers that manage the physical journey while also maintaining the passenger experience.

That’s an experience they think will be augmented by software, apps, and in-transit experiences. “Full autonomy is critical to unlocking the potential of a mobile Apple Store,” they say, describing this as “the Mobile Metaverse.”

Thinking inside the box

Their latest report, circulated to clients and seen by me, raises questions. It asks whether  Apple will offer a car with pedals and a steering wheel. It asks whether Tesla sees Apple or Toyota/VW as the biggest long-term competitor. And it asks whether Apple Car will validate Tesla’s model, threaten it, or both.

But for industry watchers, the true opportunity isn’t about conventional thinking around transportation. It’s about how autonomy creates an opportunity to transform billions of hours of available human attention into profitable business opportunity.

Sure, Apple may have its seamless ecosystem and software skills as deep-ingrained as computing itself. And yes, Tesla has knowledge in energy storage, manufacturing, and autonomy. But what these advantages create is more than the sum of those parts.

What’s at stake is 1.2 trillion hours of time not currently available to entrepreneurial innovation.

Where are you going today?

Of course, this changes once these vehicles hit the road, as that’s when that time will be liberated by autonomy. When you travel, you’ll be in the mobile equivalent of your office or den, and you’ll have choices – get stuff done, kick back and relax — meaning there’s an opportunity to offer solutions to help those choosing either state or anything in between. AR/VR seems a relatively predictable innovation space from which to fill this additional time – and this opportunity likely helped Evercore raise its AAPL stock target to $210 this week.

These vehicles won’t hit the road terribly fast. A previous Morgan Stanley prediction anticipated that it will take until 2050 until fully autonomous vehicles account for 47% of miles travelled.

So there's plenty of space on the road.

A new service economy

They also anticipate that Apple Car will be made available as a service, rather than as a personal vehicle. "We believe a car without steering wheel or pedals must be a 'shared service' and not an 'owned car,'" said analyst Adam Jonas in November. "To be clear, we do not believe consumers will own title to a fully autonomous car..., but will engage in the service as a subscription or transport utility."

I think that may be hard to swallow for hard-core car fanatics, but it’s an outcome that makes sense in several ways:

  1. Apple’s investment in Didi shows the company takes vehicles as a service industry very seriously.
  2. There are solid environmental reasons that say the consequences of replacing every car on the planet with a new vehicle would push most nations beyond carbon reduction targets.
  3. Convincing people to share vehicles will conceivably reduce traffic congestion and transform urban spaces into greener environments. Car parks can become green parks, maybe.
  4. It is plausible to anticipate an Apple Car service that accommodates individual ownership of vehicles also made available on a hybrid peer-to-peer basis within these shared fleets. Think of an amalgamation of Turo and Zipcar.

We don’t know if the Morgan Stanley analysis is correct, of course.

What it may means to business

But if you are an enterprise seeking new markets, it may be profitable to consider what your business could provide when billions of hours of human attention are made available in autonomous supercomputers capable of running sophisticated digital experiences. How can your business grab some of that attention? How do you ensure competitors don’t do so first?

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Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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