Over the holiday weekend, Tesla rolled out an update to the software powering its electric vehicles (EVs). One of the benefits of Tesla's software is that it can make changes and add features simply by sending an over-the-air update to your vehicle. Those changes, however, should make the vehicle better to drive above all else.
Instead, Tesla seems focused on making changes that highlight what it thinks are cool features like the ability to play video games on the large center console display. The result is that Tesla is making it harder to access the controls that people need to, you know, drive the car.
The most recent update removed access to some capabilities within the interface, and replaced them with what can only be generously described as entertainment features. Now, users have to dig through menus to control things like the defroster.
Always nice to have your car update itself overnight to remove commonly-accessed, safety-critical controls and bury them in a drawer, and make all of the text almost everywhere smaller and harder to read.@Tesla's management is a mess. Who shipped this?-- Marco Arment (@marcoarment) January 2, 2022
It's as though the company doesn't actually want you to drive its cars. Obviously, Tesla's ultimate goal is to build cars that can drive themselves. If that's where you're headed, it's not surprising that the company seems more interested in giving its owners access to things like Spotify or their text messages. Or, you might think that what people really want is Carooke, the company's version of karaoke that lets you sing along in your car.
Except, if you live in the large swaths of the country that experience more than one season, you might be more interested in heating up your seats, or defrosting the windshield this weekend. The latter of those features isn't a luxury, it's a safety issue.
There are certainly some things that Tesla does better than anyone else. It has certainly done more to bring electric vehicles (EVs) to the mass market than any other car company. Its strategy has largely paid off, with the company announcing on Sunday that it delivered a record-setting 308,600 vehicles in the fourth quarter of 2021.
Every one of those vehicles Tesla delivered is meant to be driven. It may be electric and have "self-driving capabilities," we're still a long way from the day when you can get in your Tesla, take a nap, and wake up wherever you told it you wanted to go. Maybe someday that will change, but for now, you need to be able to do things like defrost your windshield when it's cold outside.
And it isn't just a simple software update. Tesla can fix what it broke in this release and give its users the ability to access the controls they need. That's not the real problem.
The problem is Tesla seems to be betting on a future that may arrive, at the expense of its customers who are still counting on their vehicles to get them where they need to go today. The most recent software update comes after an investigation into fatal crashes involving Tesla's autopilot feature. And, just last week, the company said it is recalling a half-million vehicles that were at an increased risk of crashing due to issues with the trunk and backup camera.
The point is that when you lose sight of the thing you promised your customers, you're doing it wrong. When you add "features" or change the user interface in a way that makes the experience worse, you're doing it wrong. It doesn't matter if you're selling more cars than ever, you owe it to the people buying them to give them the best product today--not something that might be great someday in the future.