Digital Replaces the Automobile

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I have been thinking about this for quite some time.
Then via Twitter I came across this Adage article about how the internet or let’s say digital media in general is having a desasterous effect on the auto industry.
Sounds far-fetched? Maybe, but there is truth to it as I will prove.



Beginning in the early 19th century cars began to replace horse and carriage. Slowly but steadily, and as productivity improved and cars became more affordable (think of the Ford Model T), the success of automobiles could not be stopped anymore. Until now. Sure, cars have not yet been replaced by small convenient electric aircraft or such, but they are under pressure. From a medium no one could have imagined it would be a threat..


Some 10, 20 or even 40 years ago, a car was the dream of any young man or woman. Why? It is a symbol of freedom, it allows you to move where you want when you want, and thus enables you to communicate in person with people living too far away to walk. It enables you to haul home goods that you bought elsewhere, it takes you to your job interview and it may be the romantic setting on a first date. You had to have a car or you where nobody.

Still the case today, you might say. Well yes, but only to some extent.


The number of young adults who have no driver’s license is decreasing. Just as the article on nicely illustrates, this is no coincidence but rather a strong tendency away from the car. This does also apply to my personal network. People don’t get their driver’s license because they are unable to drive properly. No, they simply do not need it and save the money for other things. Coming back to the graphic in the article you should be aware, that in the U.S a driver’s license is very easy to obtain (financially and concerning the test – if this is good like that? Well the auto lobby surely would not want it any other way). To compare: in Germany an auto driver’s license can easily amount to EUR 1000. This would at least partly explain why less and less people get the license. However, for the US and that is the country the graphic refers to, it is no explanation at all.

Now why would young adults shy away from all the wonderful possibilities a car offers you? Do they no longer have the needs? They do. But they found an easier, more convenient, yet digital way to cover all the things mentione before:

-symbol of freedom
-go where you want when you want
-communicate in person with people living too far away to walk
-haul home goods that you bought elsewhere
-job interview
-setting on a first date
-be someone


Internet and mobile internet via your cell phone allows you to be free. You can do anything at any time. From shopping for exotic products to watching a UStream livestream of a highschool basketball final.
You can virtually access any point on this planet via Google Maps and billions of photos and videos at your disposal. You want to see how huge the waves in Hawaii are – surely someone has been there and shares his photos, videos and impressions with you. The internet allows you to communicate with anyone in the world – whether you are somewhere in the Bavarian Alps or downtown Manhattan. Skype and other applications allow to even see each other live. You can literally purchase everything online. From a new car to groceries to a new movie – many goods even come with free shipping right to your apartment door. Job interviews or at least first level interviews can easily be undertaken via video conference. No need to drive60 miles just to find out the position is absolutely not your piece of cake. Dating today does no longer take a car to take the girl to the movies or the diner as we know it from the 50s and 60s movies. Instead online dating platforms have become highly successful and even come with a money-back guarantee (now how weird is that?).
And to some it up. While before identification happened via clothes, your car, your peers, this has considerably moved online. Today, teenagers as well as young adult identify themselves by their myspace or facebook profile, the type of cell phone they have and which b(r)ands they favor. As a recent Southpark episode nicely illustrated: if you have no profile and or no friends you barely exist.

Sure, you can also show off your car. But think of young people and how they are searching for their own identity via brands etc. An iPhone is much cheaper than a car, and very often today, a car does not impress as much as an iPhone, the latest apps or how many friends you have on facebook. Another aspect is that we tend to move to highly populated cities. Who needs a car, when you have some 50 different subway lines, another 50 bus lines plus the train system? You often do not even have the possibility to demonstrate your car to your colleagues because many times you do not know where you will be parking the next day (if there is no company parking lot). And lastly: cars cost you money even when they are standing in the garage. In times of economic uncertainties you would rather not invest too much into a car.

You may have realized that I have spoken of different groups of people i.e. potential consumers. Teenagers who are allowed to drive a car much earlier in the US than in Europe and then young adults and adults in general. The latter may still be the more easy-to-handle target group with a fixed value set in their mind and often times strong loyalty to auto brands (and their heritage). But ask the younger generation! Cars have become much more similar in recent years. It is not longer the US brand vs. Japanese brand fight. The market is much more diverse, intertwined and thus confusing for the consumer. Is Subaru American? Jaguar still British or really Indian now? Does the Mini Cooper really have a Toyota engine? And is it true that Japanes cars are built in the U.S. by U.S. workers?
This industry is chaotic.


The car today has lost some of its power. And the world has changed leaving less space for our cars. What I have not yet mentioned is the entire environmental issue. Cars today are considered harmful. They endanger our future and that of our children. New technologies are being demanded by the public. As the world around us has changed so cars have to change to maintain their role in our lives.


What does the changed environment mean for automobiles?

-cell phone-like apps for the car
-connecting the digital sphere with the car sphere (colleagues may not see your car on the road, but on social networks)
-hybrid, e-cell, fuel cell and other technologies to take away the negative touch
-alternatives to owning a car, such as car-sharing
-mobility on demand, e.g. via a rental car when you need one
-cars and auto brands have to go online and into Social Media (Don’t loose touch of future target groups!)
-cars have to identify new „reasons why“ to persuade consumer to purchase a car
-brand facets such as sustainability have to be pursued and must be cemented as core brand facets
-auto brands have to make sure their brand can be understood by consumers

Warren Buffett to buy Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp.

NYT: Awesome Train Set, Mr. Buffett


For $50 or so, you can buy a Thomas the Tank Engine train set and feel as powerful as Sir Topham Hatt, the somewhat wooden overseer of the mythical North Western Railway Company. Or, if you are the investor Warren E. Buffett, you can purchase the complete set of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation, for $26 billion or so.

Comes with 40,000 employees, 6,700 locomotives, and access to hundreds of thousands of freight cars. Some assembly required.

In announcing his plans last week to buy Burlington Northern, Mr. Buffett explained that good old trains are the future: an efficient and relatively green way to ship coal, grain and just about everything else that makes this country run. Another reason for his purchase, he joked, was that “my father didn’t buy me a train set as a kid.”

Although Mr. Buffett’s plans are rooted in the cool calculation of good returns on an investment, his throwaway line taps into the romantic distinction of his latest acquisition. He is not buying just anything. He is buying trains — and thus the rapt attention of the societal subset known as railfans. A quarter-million strong, by their estimates, they are deeply knowledgeable, a little prickly about being dismissed as nerds, and so enthusiastic that Mr. Buffett’s following of devoted investors will seem disengaged by comparison.

Knowing all the lyrics to “Orange Blossom Special” does not make you a railfan. To join this crowded club car, you must be train-obsessed, and possess a profound appreciation for the conquest of challenging landscape by powerful machinery moving ever forward. If you cannot muster this level of passion, you can get off at the next stop.

You’re a railfan if you have waited in the chill of early morning to watch a freight train pass through Horseshoe Curve in Altoona, Pa. You’re a railfan if you live for a serendipitous “meet” — when, with camera in hand, you witness the point at which trains traveling in opposite directions pass each other.

“There’s also the sound,” explained Steve Barry, the managing editor of Railfan & Railroad magazine, circulation 40,000. “The sound of a train as it works up the grade is just awesome.”

When asked to elaborate, Mr. Barry paused for several seconds, as if to conjure in his mind the humming of the steel wheels on steel rails, the banging of the couplers connecting cars.

“Wow,” he said, finally. “Thundering, but unlike thunder. It lasts a lot longer. It is machinery at work — at its best.”

Mr. Barry said that many railfans dedicate themselves to preserving the historical record. One Web site,, features more than 271,000 photographs of trains, with updates of the most popular from the last year, the last week, the last 24 hours. “Eastbound KJRY train of empty coal hoppers leaves Iowa for Illinois,” reads a typical caption, accompanied by date (April 24, 2009) and location (Keokuk, Iowa).

Other fans focus on timetables, standing beside the track in, say, Yazoo City, Miss., to chronicle what time the City of New Orleans passes through. But this is “more of a British thing,” Mr. Barry said. “Americans are more apt to photograph.”

You are also a railfan if you collect “railroadiana,” the memorabilia of trains: dining car china, or steam locomotive whistles, or railroad uniform buttons, or brass rail locks from the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Steve Glischinski, the author of several books about trains, says a friend of his has a caboose in his backyard.

Both Mr. Barry and Mr. Glischinski acknowledged that railroad employees long ago christened railfans as “foamers,” though they differ in their understanding of the term’s origin. Mr. Barry said it derives from Foamite, which stands for “Far Out and Mentally Incompetent Train Enthusiasts”; Mr. Glischinski said it comes from the notion of foaming-at-the-mouth craziness.

Mr. Barry said that some railfans now proudly declare themselves foamers to deny the term its derogatory intent. Even so, Mr. Glischinski doesn’t care for enthusiasts who say “I went foaming today.”

“I find that weird,” he said. “I am just a railroad fan.”

He also noted that railroad employees who dismiss enthusiasts as foamers and worse — one acronym uses a very, very bad word — often will come back a decade later, after they’ve retired, and ask, “Say, you wouldn’t happen to have a picture of that train I used to work on, would you?”

To which Mr. Glischinski says he often answers: “Yes. I do.”

Since we’re talking about terminology, Mr. Glischinski said, how about you reporters? “Every train is ‘chugging’ into town,” he said. “Steam locomotives are long, long, long gone.”

Another thing. What is so nerdy about a hobby that encourages you to travel this country — to see trains passing through Altoona, or climbing the swirl of California’s Tehachapi Loop, or rumbling along the Wyoming flatness of a nowhere place called Bill?

Just the other day, Mr. Glischinski saw a “meet” in the central Illinois town of Monica. On the Warren E. Buffett line, as a matter of fact: the Burlington Northern.

Article published by NY Times under

SOM: Now why does a man like Warren Buffet buy a giant railroad company such as Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp.?
Is he simply assuming that ecars will take longer than expected to become the standard mode of travelling? How should this investment – or bet if you want – pay off?
Several reasons could be possible. He could expect more and more people to make use of trains. Trains become more attractive i.e. more affordable, more convenient and especially cheaper. But how should this happen? Energy prices are on the rise, Americans in particular depend on their own vehicle(s), America’s Wal-Marts are not connected to the train system, and how in God’s name should trains be the future??
Then again the question, where does Buffett see the future of trains?

Convenience and speed
There is one thing I can think of, based on my personal travelling experience in Germany. A country in which I dare to say, trains are more accepted and used than in the U.S. They easily connect metropolitan areas, they are fast, convenient and in terms of price almost a alternative to the car. I do have a „Bahncard“ which offers me discount prices on the tickets and makes use of special offers, but still, in the past half year I usually took the car. What then could the Deutsche Bahn do to convince me? Price: this may be one of the major issues. Most people still argue the tickets are too expensive compared to taking the car. Convenience is okay I would say, given you spend the few bucks for a reservation. The major advantage of taking the train is twofold: You can work or you can relax. These are two arguments your car can’t beat. And on heavy traffic commuting days the train is usually faster than the car. This should more or less also apply to metropolitan America (especially with the low driving speed on American highways).

The digital age phenomenon:
If this is what Buffett had in mind, I must admit his excellence in investing. The internet and all the possibilities it offers us – be it in terms of making a living, in the form of entertainment or simply communication turned us into digital addicts. Internet usage is constantly increasing, many of us are online 24/7. The ever growing amount of information simply calls for it. 1 hour a day is often not enough for phenomena like web 2.0., managing your finances online, online shopping…. The result: The internet enters more and more areas of our life as we call for it. At first only used in the businesses and offices, then adapted by our kids, wives, grand-parents, relatives,… it is growing to become the most important medium of communication. And with this ever-growing usage the amount of available information grows. There are two ways to cope with this information overload: We either optimize the usage of the web or we sacrifice more time. The first can be accomplished by social bookmarking, recommendations by friends or experts or new software to organize the web. The latter requires a change of our daily routine and brings up the question: Where can I save time to go online? The answer: mobile internet! On our way to work, at lunch, all the daily minutes we spend waiting for something – all of these moments can be used to quickly access the web via the cell phone. We can check our private mails, we can chat with our family, manage our finances, purchase stuff at amazon or recommend a good restaurant. You name it.
Now let’s get back to Warren Buffett and the trains. If you have the choice between taking the jammed highway or a fast train where you can relax or work AND have fast internet access ideally for free, at an attractive ticket price, what would you choose?
Never having taken a U.S train (only D.C. and New York metro) I can only assume the similarities. But if here in Germany Deutsche Bahn would offer fast internet for free in all of its IC and ICE that is its fast long-distance trains, you can be sure I would take the train. Just imagine what I could do in those say three hours!! Work online with access to the files in my office, surf the web, chat with my friends, collaborate only with my colleagues, book a holiday, find a new apartment – all the web offers.
That the Deutsche Bahn today only rarely offers this and then also charges too much for it, is the wrong solution. Do it the Google way. Give away internet and the time to surf for free and sell the train tickets and food and drinks. That way you’ll win the hearts. Or collaborate with online shopping platforms. Give a 10% discount at amazon for all you order during the ride. Allow passengers to already book the next trip, add a reservation, offer them discounts on upgrades to 1st class if the current usage is suboptimal. There are a thousand business models hidden behind the availability of free fast internet on trains. And just think of the purchasing power of the hundreds of thousands of business travellers and first class passengers….

From this point of view, the trains might be able to offer what the car barely can do today: time slots in our busy lives to go online when before it was only possible with UMTS cell phones and UMTS sticks. The internet may have the desirability the trains themselves cannot come up with! Just like people go to Verizon not for the brand (what does Verizon stand for????) but for the attractive mobile phones it offers (see the article on the new Moto Droid).

Mr. Buffett if this is the future, then your investment might indeed pay off!

Deutsche Bahn testet Touch & Travel

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Die Deutsche Bahn testet aktuell ihr neues mobiles Ticketsystem Touch & Travel.
Mittels speziellen Mobiltelefonen, die bereits über die neue Technologie NFC (Near Field Communication) verfügt. Dieses modernen e-ticketing ermöglicht es Bahnreisenden am Abfahrtsbahnhof mittels des Mobiltelefones die Fahrt an einem entsprechenden Sensor zu starten und am Zielbahnhof auf selbige Weise als beendet zu markieren. Der Ticketpreis errechnet sich automatisch am Ende der Fahrt und kann mittels Abbuchung beglichen werden. Möglich soll das sogar in Bus, Tram, U- oder S-Bahn, Regional Express oder ICE sein. Nach erfolgreichem Tests in Berlin, Potsdam und Hannover erweitert die Bahn nun ihre Tests im Raum Frankfurt, Köln und dem Ruhrgebiet.

Fragen, die sich für mich ergeben:
-Wieviele Touch & Travel Säulen bräuchte man pro Gleis wenn die Kunden starkes Gefallen an dem Angebot finden?
-Wie verhält es sich mit der Sitzplatzreservierung, wenn ich erst wenige Minuten vor der Fahrt mich einbuche?
-Wie lege ich fest in welcher Klasse ich reise / gereist bin?`
-Wie schnell wird sich die NFC-Technik in gewöhnlichen Mobiltelefonen durchsetzen?
-Wie unbequem ist es Privathandy, Firmenhandy und Deutsche Bahn Handy mitzuführen?
-Wie transparent sind die entstehenden Kosten? Theoretisch sieht man den Preis ja erst am Ende der Reise

Dennoch freut es mich, dass die Bahn sich neuen Techniken öffnet. Jetzt müsste Sie nur noch kostenloses Highspeed Internet in den Zügen anbieten. Das wäre ein richtig gewichtiges Argument für die ICs und ICEs. Da aber nicht mal McDonalds es schafft völlig kostenloses WLAN anzubieten, werden wohl eher Premium PKW auf breiter Front über Highspeed Internet verfügen…..

New Mobile Flash Player Announced – Except for iPhone


Adobe today announced the release of a new version of flash 10, specially designed for mobile devices.
This will finally be a one version fits all for mobile phones! The only negative aspect of this announcement: iPhone users don’t get it!
This news even ranked among to tweets on twitter today and causes a lot of consternation. Why not for the innovative or better most innovative of all phones? The problem is rooted in Apple’s iPhone SDK and internal obstacles in the cooperation with Adobe.

BusinessWire today published an article on the issue:

October 05, 2009 12:01 AM Eastern Daylight Time
Adobe Unveils First Full Flash Player for Mobile Devices and PCs
Close to 50 Open Screen Project Participants Support New Browser Runtime for Multiple Platforms

Adobe MAX 2009
LOS ANGELES–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Adobe Systems Incorporated (Nasdaq:ADBE) today unveiled Adobe® Flash® Player 10.1 software for smartphones, smartbooks, netbooks, PCs and other Internet-connected devices, allowing content created using the Adobe Flash Platform to reach users wherever they are. A public developer beta of the browser-based runtime is expected to be available for Windows® Mobile, Palm® webOS and desktop operating systems including Windows, Macintosh and Linux later this year. Public betas for Google® Android™ and Symbian® OS are expected to be available in early 2010. In addition, Adobe and RIM announced a joint collaboration to bring Flash Player to Blackberry® smartphones, and Google joined close to 50 other industry players in the Open Screen Project initiative.

Flash Player 10.1 is the first consistent runtime release of the Open Screen Project that enables uncompromised Web browsing of expressive applications, content and high definition (HD) videos across devices. Using the productive Web programming model of the Flash Platform, the browser-based runtime enables millions of designers and developers to reuse code and assets and reduce the cost of creating, testing and deploying content across different operating systems and browsers. Flash Player 10.1 is easily updateable across all supported platforms to ensure rapid adoption of new innovations that move the Web forward.

The browser-based runtime leverages the power of the Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) for accelerated video and graphics while conserving battery life and minimizing resource utilization. New mobile-ready features that take advantage of native device capabilities include support for multi-touch, gestures, mobile input models, accelerometer and screen orientation bringing unprecedented creative control and expressiveness to the mobile browsing experience. Flash Player 10.1 will also take advantage of media delivery with HTTP streaming, including integration of content protection powered by Adobe® Flash® Access 2.0. This effort, code-named Zeri, will be an open format based on industry standards and will provide content publishers, distributors and partners the tools they need to utilize HTTP infrastructures for high-quality media delivery in Flash Player 10.1 and Adobe® AIR® 2.0 software.

To learn more about Flash Player 10.1 and to see video demos visit Adobe Labs.

“With Flash Player moving to new mobile platforms, users will be able to experience virtually all Flash technology based Web content and applications wherever they are,” said David Wadhwani, general manager and vice president, Platform Business Unit at Adobe. “We are excited about the broad collaboration of close to 50 industry leaders in the Open Screen Project and the ongoing collaboration with 19 out of the top 20 handset manufacturers worldwide. It will be great to see first devices ship with full Flash Player in the first half of next year.”

„We are excited to join Adobe and other industry leaders in the Open Screen Project,“ said Sundar Pichai, vice president of Product Management at Google. „This initiative supports our common goal to move the Web forward as a platform and to spur innovation in the industry through technology such as Adobe Flash.“

“Adobe Flash technology provides a key experience on new Windows phones, enabling people to enjoy rich Flash based games, videos and other interactive Web content on the go,” said Stephanie Ferguson, general manager, Product Management, Microsoft Corp. “We look forward to bringing in the new capabilities of Adobe Flash Player 10.1 to the Windows phone browser when it becomes available.”

“Motorola is excited to be one of the first handset manufacturers to ship Android based devices with Flash Player support early next year,” said Christy Wyatt, vice president of software applications and ecosystem at Motorola. “As the No.1 platform for video on the Web, uncompromised browsing of Flash technology based content is essential for a rich mobile experience and something users expect from Motorola today.”

“As a longtime partner of Adobe, and more than 400 million Nokia phones shipped with existing Flash technology to date, we are excited to see Flash Player becoming a reality for mobile phones and other mobile devices,” said Purnima Kochikar, vice president, Forum Nokia. “Nokia is excited about full Flash Player coming to devices and we are committed to supporting Flash Player 10.1 on mobile devices in 2010.”

Open Screen Project

Led by Adobe, the Open Screen Project includes close to 50 industry leaders working together to provide a consistent runtime environment across mobile phones, desktops and other consumer electronic devices. The initiative addresses the challenges of Web browsing and standalone applications on a broad range of devices, and removes the barriers to publishing content and applications seamlessly across screens. Participants of the initiative include Antena 3, Atlantic Records, ARM, BBC, Burda, Cell, Chungwha Telecom, Cisco, Comcast, Conde Nast, Daum, Disney Interactive, Fox Mobile, Google, HTC, Intel, LG Electronics, Lionsgate, Marvell, Motorola, MTV Networks, NBC Universal, Nokia, NTT DoCoMo, NVIDIA, OpenTV, Palm, Paramount, QNX Software Systems, Qualcomm,, RIM, RTL, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Texas Instruments, The New York Times, Toshiba, Verizon Wireless, Ziilabs and many others.

CEOs from ARM, Broadcom, DoCoMo, Google, HTC, Motorola, NVIDIA, Palm, QUALCOMM and RIM discuss how they’re bringing Flash Platform technologies to their devices and platforms as part of the initiative. To watch the videos and for more information about the Open Screen Project visit

About Adobe Flash Platform

The Adobe Flash Platform is the leading Web design and development platform for creating expressive applications, content, and video that run consistently across operating systems and devices and reach over 98 percent of Internet-enabled desktops. Flash Player 10 was installed on more than 93 percent of computers in just the first ten months since its release. According to comScore Media Metrix, approximately 75 percent of online videos viewed worldwide are delivered using Adobe Flash technology, making it the No. 1 format for video on the Web. Major broadcasters and media companies including, and DIRECTV rely on the Adobe Flash Platform for delivering video on the Web and the platform powers social network sites such as YouTube and MySpace. For more information about the Adobe Flash Platform visit

About Adobe Systems Incorporated

Adobe revolutionizes how the world engages with ideas and information – anytime, anywhere and through any medium. For more information, visit

Adobe® and Adobe Flash® ™ are trademarks of Adobe Systems Incorporated. Any other trademarks or trade names mentioned are the property of their respective owners.

Source: BusinessWire; the article cited here can be accessed under:

For German-only readers, here is the link to Chip Magazine which also offers an article on the issue:

Can’t wait to pimp my Nokia!