Moore's Law and Cars

Briefly (and incorrectly) put, Moore's Law estimates that the cost of computer power halves every 18 month. Got a grand to spend? Wait a couple of years and you can buy twice the amount of computer for the same cost. Or, if you prefer, the old computer for half the price.

The Nokia N95 - the last great Smartphone before the iPocalypse - cost around £370 in 2005. That's about £560 in 2021's money.

For £550 today, you can buy an iPhone 11 or a OnePlus 8T - or any number of amazingly powerful computers. For the £370 you can buy an iPhone X or the OnePlus Nord - both brilliant phones which can do everything you need and far outpace the N95. Hell! For a smidgen under £200 you can buy a no-brand Android which is perfectly usable and would knock the spots off the Nokia.

In 16 years (fuck, I'm old) we've gone through 10 steps in Moore's way. 210 = 1,024. Are today's phones a thousand times better than those of the mid-noughties?

In raw computation speed, probably. In battery life? LOL nope. In charging speed? Eh, the N95 took 4 hours, a fast charge on smartphone is more like 30 minutes. In picture quality? There aren't a thousand times more pixels - we've gone from 5 megapixels to 12 megapixels - but the image quality from low-light lenses and AI post-processing is huge. The top network speed of the N95 was about 7Mbps - the latest 5G phones can get about 150Mbps in the UK.

Simply put, other components just can't keep up with Moore's Law. We're an iteration or two from requiring phones to have cooling fans and a permanent charging cable.

But there's something else which can't keep up with Moore's Law. A business's need to make money. The latest, top of the range, all bells-and-whistles iPhone will cost you £1,000. Double the inflation-adjusted cost of the N95.

Apple are free to charge as much as they want - and people are free to buy what they want - but buying a flagship computing device is irrational. In 18 months, that amount of power will be half the price. On a rational basis, you'd never buy any technology.

Which brings me to cars.

Cars are now computers and batteries on wheels. They haven't seen quite the drop in price as regular computers - but they have seen a huge rise in reliability and safety features.

But, take the new SEAT Mii - an all-electric car with a 160 mile range. It has lane-assist, traffic sign recognition, rear parking cameras, Bluetooth, a remote phone app - and basically all the features of non-self-driving car. And it costs under £200 per month.

Car leasing screen - the car is £194.73 per month inc VAT.

Compare that to the most expensive iPhone of £90 per month.

A vodafone deal for £90 per month.

(OK, with the iPhone, you own it at the end. With the car lease you have to give it back at the end.)

Electric cars are cratering in price. Like the iPhone, no one needs a blinged out Tesla. Sure, there will be plenty of people who buy them. But the vast majority will be satisfied with Moore's Law driving the cost of motoring down to rock bottom.

At some point - probably in the next 3 years - there will be a widely available EV for under £100pcm. It'll probably have a low range - but how often do you drive more than 100 miles? And it'll only seat 2 people comfortably - perfect for young couples. And it'll technically be a low-safety quadricycle - but you won't care because it'll cost the same as your phone.

And that will anchor people's expectations for what a car should cost. Yeah, you'll pay a bit more if you want a "brand" or if you need more seating - but for a huge swathe of people a car will be a monthly expense on par with their phone bill or Internet bill.

Perhaps we'll even hit a weird point when your top-spec iPhone will come with a "free" car.

Either way, people will soon expect that their cars receive a significant upgrade ever few years. Can the industry keep up with the rate of change that consumers expect from their electronics?

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7 thoughts on “Moore's Law and Cars”

    1. Mike says:

      There's now a cargo version of the AMI with a monthly rental less than most people probably pay for their iPhone, albeit with a much larger first payment
      "…a monthly rental as part of a long-term lease agreement starting at €24.18 a month (first payment of €2508.43 €900 bonus deducted for a 48-month long-term lease agreement in France)."

  1. Neil says:

    the latest 5G phones can get about 150Mbps in the UK

    They’re in a poor coverage area, then!

    In the middle of a field, while out for a walk, I got 360Mbps (according to; ymmv) a few weeks’ back.

  2. Sam Machin says:

    The car is a lease though, so £190 a month is only really paying the depreciation, at the end of the 2 years you give it back and are left with nothing. The phone you own outright. Admititly a 2 year old phone may have very little resale value, (iPhones excluded) but its still useful and perfectly servicable to most people. Same for the car, most people drive something that is more than 2 years old.
    Oh and that car lease limits you to 5000 miles a year!

    1. @edent says:

      Yup - I mention the lease issue above. The average mileage in the UK is under 7,000 - and if you're in London, it's considerably lower. Obviously COVID will lower that this year - but how many people are going to commute 5 days a week in future?

      Cars aren't quite at the disposable stage - yet!

      1. loserone says:

        That depends upon your view on cars. I set myself an annual budget of around £1500 with which I quite happily manage to run 2-3 family cars all year around - covering all depreciation, VED, servicing and MOTs. Good, working, safe family cars can be bought for less than £500 in the UK, a situation which is not the case anywhere else in Europe. No doubt as a result of lower demand being RHD. If you buy them from the South, they may not even be rusty!

        Last summer we needed a large estate car to drive to the south of France to visit family. A £500 car was sourced, fitted with new discs and pads on the front and tested over a few weeks. It had cruise control, a decent sunroof, full heated leather interior, working dual zone climate control, good branded recent tyres. It covered 3000 miles in two weeks, fully laden with two toddlers and bikes at 45MPG without any issue. I MOT'd it and sold it when we got back, it cost nothing but the fuel. Travel insurance would not have covered any issues as it was against FCO advice, but even then it was a more comfortable risk for us than hiring a car - which would have been the fallback should the 19 year old car have failed whilst abroad.

        The main family car is currently a 15 year old high specification 'executive' car which comes with a good NCAP rating of the time - and I'm not sure that the requirements for a newer 5* NCAP rating including e.g. ESC and radar triggered braking are actually that much of a benefit. However, should a significant issue arise, or worse an accident, I would simply dispose of it and buy something else. That sounds very much disposable. It is a turbocharged petrol engine, so in theory I am concerned about the environmental effects of only getting 32MPG, but with COVID we're driving less, and I am not unnecessarily scrapping cars for the sake of having a fashionable modern driveway ornament. It was cheaper to buy (£400) than what I sold the older estate car for, as I was in the right place at the right time and able to commit without seeing it.

        We did have an electric car - an unpopular LEAF 'Visia' - but the range wasn't adequate when we moved to a more rural area (60 mile commute over the hills in the Winter not being ideal with 24KWh and no air source heating) without a suitable charging spot. We sold it after 26k miles and it cost around significantly less than £100/m over that time, including the depreciation and electricity. No longer having it felt like a weight off us as driving around in £8000 in metal and batteries seemed such a liability. I could not contemplate spending so much money to have to look after someone else's car.

        Having said that, the POTENTIAL simplicity of electric should be the future, and I am pleased to see demand driving competition and reducing the up-front cost. See MG's ZS for proof of that, sub £20k for a family sized electric car with a range usable for 99% of people as an only car. Sadly most manufacturers insist on including 'state of the art' technology in electric cars bringing IoT risks and issues into the second most expensive purchase of most households. Remember Nissan CarWings? Connect to your car with just the VIN, which is written on the outside and can be looked up from the registration plate. These issues will continue to appear. I don't want or need a web browser in my car; a more appropriate device is cheaper to buy, maintain and update.

        The AMI is breath of fresh air, and I hope the vmax and apparent build quality issues don't present a major stumbling block to their sales.


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