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One of the big bets in the tech industry is that once a company is good at moving one thing, it should be able to do the same for everything.
Companies like Uber and Instacart are starting to branch out from one area – getting people or groceries to their destinations – delivering restaurant food, prescription drugs, housewares, pet food and convenience store items. With that in mind, this week Uber bought Drizly, which delivers from liquor stores.
You can imagine the potential when courier companies deliver almost anything under the sun. But will it work and is it a good thing?
It’s impossible to predict whether one-stop delivery giants will spread, or what impact the ripple could have – both helpful and harmful. However, we should pay attention to the steps of these companies and think critically about the stakes for small businesses, our wallets, our communities, and the US workforce.
First the Uber promise for everything and then some of the complications.
That could be great. Couriers could be more busy picking up passengers, delivering burritos, and dropping off crates of beer. Selling more kinds of things could reverse losses at app-based companies like Uber and DoorDash. And it’s convenient for people who like to shop from their sofas. Win-win-win.
It could be good for local businesses and our communities too. Imagine if a local toy store or grocery store could more easily cater to both those shopping in person and those nearby who prefer delivery. Our favorite companies could have a second life without competing against Amazon or sending orders hundreds of miles in the mail.
My colleague Kate Conger told me that the pandemic has shown that many of us are eager to get everything home, and that more tech industry watchers believe that app-based businesses can successfully become one-stop delivery machines.
It’s also possible that the Uber model isn’t working for something, or in this case, it entrenches the worst aspects of delivery-by-app businesses.
For everything Uber talks about its lovely double deals of delivering food in restaurants and moving people, they are completely different. Customers may overlap, but signing up restaurants and keeping them happy is a whole different game than moving people.
In addition, every new type of goods delivered – groceries, convenience store items, home improvement items and alcohol – has different processes and logistics. Can a generalist be good at everyone?
Also worth noting: many restaurants have said app-based delivery services were bad business. Will companies in other industries think the same way?
If one-stop delivery companies are not viable, it could hurt customers who relied on them, companies who put their futures on them – and especially the workers who are lowest in the gig economy hierarchy.
If you’ve hung around Silicon Valley long enough, you’re likely to hear a line stolen from Ernest Hemingway that changes frequently and then suddenly. Ordering Cheetos and beer at the same time allows us and app companies to reshape our habits, communities and workforce.
Apple cars! (May be.)
In 2015, my colleague Dai Wakabayashi reported for the Wall Street Journal that Apple was working on an electric vehicle. And today, the company may still be at least half a decade away from its cars taking to the streets.
I’m excited to see the possibility of an Apple car. More electric cars, yes! However, Apple’s history shows that being a newbie to the car is not easy. And Apple may have unique drawbacks that make its brand of car unsafe.
The latest news is that the Hyundai and Kia car maker is negotiating to eventually manufacture Apple vehicles at a Kia facility in Georgia, CNBC reported on Wednesday. Working with an experienced automobile manufacturer is likely to be required.
However, Apple has been here before. About five years ago, the company was working in the automotive engineering field at Magna International in Canada. It was going nowhere because Apple’s car project was a mess.
The company has repeatedly squatted its auto initiative, changed its mind about its strategy, and laid off a number of people. Apple also went back and forth over whether it should be about completely driverless cars and whether the car should make it or just design the technology for it. The driverless technology is apparently back in operation.
Never count out Apple. But I wonder if the company’s dithering reflects underlying and unrecoverable issues. And Apple has a cultural disadvantage here. Steve Jobs brought the iPhone to a world that took it by surprise, but the company’s penchant for secrecy and enjoyment doesn’t – or shouldn’t – apply to driverless cars.
A driverless car must be rigorously tested on public roads and gain the trust of regulators and the public. Apple needs to spot an army of allies on its product roadmap – something it doesn’t do to the same extent as its gadget partners. (Apple has conducted driverless car tests, but far fewer than others.)
I hope it works. But GM’s entire fleet could be electric before Apple takes a single car out of the factory.