Tesla’s Self-Driving Software Update. SOFTWARE UPDATE.

As of last week, Tesla Model S and Model X owners woke up to a bit of a surprise: their cars could now drive themselves.  Now let me qualify that statement a bit.  This isn’t full autonomous driving, it’s really just for the highway and other fairly-predictable driving situations.  But it’s still a cool step forward.  Self-driving cars are perhaps one of the most exciting things happening in tech these days, and I think they’re awesome.  So again, even though this isn’t full self-driving, we’re making leaps and bounds at this point.  But I don’t want to talk too much about the actual self-driving here, though I think that’s super cool.  What I want to talk about is the fact that Tesla was able to add self-driving as a feature to cars retroactively, after they’d been purchased.

Teslas have always gotten software updates automatically over the internet.  Up until now, however, they’ve mostly been, well software upgrades.  Think navigation system improvements here.  However, Tesla has now pushed a huge new hardware feature onto all their cars, and I think it’s fascinating how they did it.

To be clear, it’s not like any car can self-drive with software alone, there has to be hardware sensors.  But what’s awesome is that Tesla began building that hardware into its cars a year ago, knowing that they had this feature coming.  Talk about foresight!  I also applaud them for their respect of the consumer here.  Most companies say that in order to get new features, you have to pay up for the new version.  Not here.  Tesla could have released a new car with self-driving, and expected everyone who already owned a Tesla to pay up for a new one.  Instead, they rolled out this new feature to their entire fleet.

To be fair, it wasn’t entirely free.  There was a $2500 “self-driving” add on package that many owners simply paid up front on their car, in order to get the features when they arrive.  Owners who didn’t will have to pay up for that now.  But if you think of that $2500 as simply part of the cost of the vehicle, then those customers are now getting this update for free.  Pretty awesome.

More than anything, however, I just love Elon Musk’s vision of cars.  Despite the fact that cars have loads of on-board computer systems, most companies treat them as dumb objects.  They’re made with a certain software package and then left to sink into obsoleteness.  Tesla looks at things radically differently.  To them, cars are smart, connected devices, just like your phone or laptop.  This means that should be constantly improved through software updates (both bug fixes and new features).  This idea seems obvious, but not many people thought about it.  Until Tesla.

I’ve written about Tesla before, and I think they’re an awesome company.  I’m excited to see what they do in the future.  I’m really excited for their Model 3, supposed to be unveiled in 2016.  The Tesla Model S (aimed at the luxury market) starts at around $65k before government tax credits; Tesla’s target for the Model 3 is $35k.  This puts it well within the range of regular consumer cars.  Tesla can change the world for the rich all they want; when they make a car anyone can buy is when they’ll really change the world.  And I get the feeling “world changer” is a label Tesla is gunning for.  ••

My First Mac

2014 is the 30th anniversary of the Apple Macintosh Computer.  At the beginning of the year, Apple launched an online campaign asking people to tell about their first Mac.  Also on Apple’s website are these really cool stats about how people have used their Macs over the years.  At the beginning of the year, I didn’t have a Mac.  Having recently got one, however, I’d like to tell my story.

I’ve always used Windows PCs, and I’ve always been happy with them.  It wasn’t until last year that I really wanted a Mac.  It started when I wanted to learn how to make iPhone apps.  One internet search later and I discovered… you have to have a Mac in order to make iPhone apps.  I was crushed.  After deciding that I did really want to learn to make iPhone apps, I started to look into the Mac Mini.  Since I already had a desktop, I already had a monitor, keyboard, mouse, and speakers that I could hook up to a Mac Mini.  However, a new Mac Mini starts at $600, and used ones on eBay (at least ones recent enough to get the latest version of OS X) cost upwards of $300.  It was at this point that I realized that even a used Mac Mini would be a somewhat major purchase.

However, there was another thought to consider.  I was going to need a laptop soon; if a new Mac Mini was $600, and a good Windows laptop was $500, should I just buy a MacBook?  This question was answered when a close friend of mine said he was selling his 2012 13″ MacBook Pro.

So long story short, I bought the MacBook Pro from my friend, and it’s worked out really well.  Because it was used, I got a good deal on it, but I didn’t have to deal with any of the risk involved with buying a used computer on eBay.  I’ll be honest: the Mac is really not that different from Windows.  There are no mind-blowing benefits that would make me suggest you all rush out and buy a Mac.  There are, however, many nice little perks.

I’ll start with something the MacBook is known for: weight.  My MacBook weights 4.5 lbs., a full 25% less than my Mom’s Windows laptop (at 6 lbs.).  The Mac’s battery life is also quite impressive.  The advertised battery life is 7 hours, but of course no laptop actually meets its battery life spec in real-world use.  I haven’t run the Mac until it dies to get an official battery life count, but after smaller tests I bet I could easily get 4-5 hours out of it.

Another thing I like about the Mac is the ecosystem.  As someone who already used an iPod Touch and an iPad Mini, the iCloud integration of the Mac is really nice.  It’s great to have a computer with calendar and reminders programs that sync with my iOS devices.  There are also other little iOS-like perks, such as notification center, which conveniently shows all my reminders and emails.

Basically, most things I like about the Mac aren’t big new features, but little things that are just really well thought out (this seems to be one of Apple’s strong suits).

In conclusion, I really like the Mac.  I’m not sure I’m a lifelong convert yet, but who knows?  Maybe I’ll really get used to the perks and not want to go back.  Remember what I said at the end of an old post about using Windows 7?  Looks like that opinion might be changing.  ••