The Google/Tesla Approach vs. The Apple/Uber Approach

But in the fiercely competitive world of self-driving cars, Google’s strategy is the exception. Apple and Uber, both intensely secretive about their work on driverless cars, are the rule. “Apple’s aways been a very closed culture — and you have to believe that’s served them well, from a business standpoint,” said Larry Burns, a professor of engineering at the University of Michigan and a former General Motors executive who also serves as an advisor to Google. “But unlike a laptop computer, a car is a public-private good. A car drives on public roadways. A car has a side effect.”

So writes Adrienne LaFrance in The Atlantic. I think the dichotomy between Google / Tesla and Apple / Uber is spot on. It an interesting case study in the benefits and drawbacks of stealth projects.

I am less convinced by the Larry Burns quote about the “public goods” aspect of self-driving cars.

Cars certainly give rise to important externalities, but I don’t think that’s a strong reason to force their development cycle into the public eye.

Maybe Google and Tesla are right that a very public development process is ultimately good for the product. But that should stand on its own merits, not because society decides to outlaw stealth product development.

Originally published at on December 4, 2015.