With Apple’s announcement that it has invested €883m in Chinese Uber rival Didi Chuxing, the spotlight is, once again, firmly on the world of taxi apps. Didi Chuxing completes 11 million rides a day and has 87% of China’s ride hailing market.
Taxi driving apps have been notoriously successful yet by far their biggest complication is their human drivers. Uber has had to fight numerous costly legal cases over regulation and the employment law status of its drivers.
Commentators have speculated that Apple’s investment is part of its rumoured “electric car project”, to join the race for self-driving cars with other players such as Google and Tesla. And imagine the success of a taxi firm that had no need for drivers. A self-driving taxi that could take its client from A to B, that would produce the same five star service every time, with no need for any human complications. There are also significant further monetisation options for managing the highly attractive data associated with tracking people’s movements around cities.
The impact of this disruptive technology could stretch even further. If a user could hail a self-driving taxi anywhere, could car ownership become a thing of the past? A key attraction is that there would be no need for costly vehicle tax, car insurance and even parking charges. This could have significant political and economic ramifications around the world.
Now, this idea has been ascribed as pretty far-fetched. Apple’s investment in Didi Chuxing was also part of its strategy to learn more and gain a foothold in its second biggest market of China, after all. Yet, as the big players search for the next significant disruptive product, self-driving taxis may not be as far away as we think.