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Is Tesla a Software Company?

A Tesla owner, fan, and commentator

Tesla delivered 97,000 new cars in the quarter just ended on 9/30. Most of them were the Model 3 (which my wife has). Whether model 3, model S, or Model X, they all use basically the same software, just like different models of the iPhone all use iOS. When a new version of the Tesla software becomes available, a message appears on your Tesla’s huge flat panel display (17″ on the Model S and 15″ on the Model 3). It tells you how long the update will take (usually 25 minutes), and enables you to pick what time you want to have the update take place.

The software is downloaded using the Wi-Fi access point I have in the garage which easily reaches the Model 3 and the Model S. I usually select late at night and, in the morning, I can read the release notes on the flat panel to see what is new. The September update was to Version 10.0 and, in the course of a week, Tesla owners around the world will have the new software. V10 is Tesla’s biggest software update ever. The company says,

We’re raising the bar for what people have come to expect from their cars with new entertainment, gaming, music, and convenience features designed to make your car much more capable, as well as making time spent in your car more fun.

At the end of last year, Tesla had nearly 50,000 employees. They have had some layoffs to become more streamlined and cut some costs, but I doubt if they laid off any engineers. I could not find out how many software engineers they have, but I am sure it is thousands. It is clear to me the Tesla cars are as much a software platform as a transportation vehicle. Here’s a look at what’s new in V10:

Tesla Theater
You can now connect your flat panel display to your Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu accounts to watch your favorite shows, movies and content on your Tesla’s display while you are parked. Another new feature is access to Tesla tutorial videos to learn more about the car.

Smart Summon
With Smart Summon, for customers who have purchased the Full Self-Driving Capability or Enhanced Autopilot option, you can enable your car to navigate a parking lot and come to you as long as your car is within line of sight. Tesla says, “It’s the perfect feature to use if you have an overflowing shopping cart, are dealing with a fussy child, or simply don’t want to walk to your car in the rain.”

Karaoke
The new “Car-aoke” feature lets you sing your heart out with friends on a road trip, or by yourself. Caraoke comes with a huge library of music and song lyrics. I don’t see myself using this feature very much.

Restaurants & Destinations
The new “I’m Feeling Lucky” and “I’m Feeling Hungry” navigation features will lead you on an adventure to a local restaurant or point of interest within your car’s range. Tesla said in its testing, “We’ve been taken to hole-in-the-wall restaurants, gourmet meals, national parks, city landmarks and more.”

V10 also improved maps so search results are sorted based on distance to each destination. You can also tap on highlighted points of interest, businesses, or search results to see business ratings, start a phone call, or begin navigating to the location.

Music & Podcasts
This is the biggie for me: V10 now has Spotify Premium account access. I have used Apple Music, Amazon Prime Music, and a few others. In my opinion, Spotify is hands down the best. It is super easy to download an unlimited amount of music from the many millions of tracks available and then play them on a plane or ship with no Wi-Fi connection. The Slacker and TuneIn music services on the Tesla are good but not nearly as good as Spotify.

Tesla Arcade
I am not a gamer, but I can see how the Tesla Arcade will be very popular for people who like to play games while waiting in their car. The Arcade has a full menu of games to choose from.

Security & Convenience
The Dashcam and Sentry Mode features are now easier to manage. Sentry Mode continuously monitors the environment around your Tesla when it’s left unattended. Like many home alarm systems, it uses the car’s external cameras to detect potential threats. If someone hits or messes with your car, you will have video clip evidence which is stored automatically on your USB drive.

V10 has a number of user interface changes to make things easier. One of my favorites is the new “Joe Mode,” which lowers the cabin volume for select alerts such as parking chimes and direction signaling. The Tesla app for iPhone or Android now includes opening and closing your garage door via HomeLink, defrosting your vehicle’s cabin at the maximum temperature, and remotely controlling your Model 3 and Model X windows.

All new cars lose value beginning the minute you take ownership. Mechanical parts eventually begin to break or wear out. Tesla says its drivetrain has about 17 moving parts compared to about 200 in a conventional internal combustion drivetrain. The Tesla system is virtually maintenance-free. Version 10.0 validates how Tesla’s software updates enable the car ownership to actually get better over time.

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