In Steinberg’s view, Tesla’s most important innovations stem from the fact that it’s the first company to approach cars the Silicon Valley way: as a software problem. Steinberg perceived the power of “tin wrapped software” as the CTO of Symbol Technologies. “Symbol built hardware, but was able to use software to tune how it worked in different environments. Flexible software meant that the hardware behaved one way in a hospital (long battery life for a 12-hour shift) and another way in a retail store (higher power radios to overcome dead zones).”
“I bought the Model S because it was the first time I had ever seen someone treat a car as a software problem,” Steinberg writes. Sure, modern cars are full of software, but their builders are hardware companies, and automotive hardware is a mature market with few opportunities to disrupt, or even to differentiate their products.
Tesla has changed everything – for the first time, a car can improve itself over time via software upgrades. “Aside from navigation maps, all of my cars [he has owned many] had features that were largely fixed on the day they left the factory,” says Steinberg. “Not my Tesla. Every month, it gets software updates that make it better. It learned how to park. Then it learned how to do it better. It opens my garage door when I come home. It improved its self-driving. It improved the stereo. It added anti-theft features. After one year, my car is safer and better to drive than the day I bought it. My Tesla driving experience keeps improving through patches and updates.”