One of the world’s most successful company right now is Apple. With yearly profits of around $30 billion, it is the most profitable company, earning more money than even oil companies like ExxonMobile.[1]

A big reason for its success is the iPhone, generating more than half of its revenues. The iPhone is a technological marvel, full of magic and made from the tears of rainbow unicorns. With seemingly an App for everything, there’s almost nothing that it can’t do. It spawned a revolution in smart phones. Billions of iPhones and Android smart phones have been sold in the last few years.

The automobile, in comparison, is a dinosaur. Actually, it’s worse than that. It’s the fossil of a dinosaur. Big and lumbering, it’s a relic of a time when friends actually saw each other in person instead of face tweeting their instant photos or bacterial videos on a wall to friends and random people.

Studies show that young people are not buying cars or even getting their driver’s license. Even if they want to buy cars, the staggering student debt they’re burdened with after college prevents them from buying new cars. Further down the age scale, teens don’t even want cars, they want iPhones.

iPhones are cool, cars are not.

The only way in engineering sciences to compare such disparate products is a Cage Match of Death by Contrived Categories. Rule 1 is that this is MMA style (mixed metaphors art)—anything goes. Rule 2 is I get to pick the categories. (Disclosure: I was too lazy to come up with a Rule 3.)

So without further ado, let the best product that I like win.

(Disclosure: Yes, I can do this with other smart phones, but who the hell is really going to click on a link about the LG G4.)

iPhone 6 vs the Automobile
Contrived Cage Match of Death!
(Death not actually involved)


iPhone: The full price for an iPhone 6/6 Plus ranges from $649 to $949. Or you can indenture yourself to providers like Verizon or AT&T for 2 years and get it from $199 initially. But rest assured that these providers will get their pound of flesh from you.

(Disclosure: When I can get a signal, I’m on T-Mobile.)

Automobile: The average price for a new car in 2013 was $32,086. The average price for a used car in 2014 was a record $16,800. Holy crap.

Except for a house, an automobile will probably be the most expensive item someone will buy. If Verizon’s 2-year contract is bad, remember that most car loans are 4-6 years. That $32,086 car equates to about an iPhone a month for 48 months.

Winner: iPhone


iPhone: In Q1 2015 (Christmas), Apple sold over 74 million iPhones. It followed this up with over 61 million sold the next quarter. In 2013, world wide sales for automobiles were 65,140,268.

Automobile: A full size Cadillac Escalade is about 21.9 m3 based on its overall external dimensions. A skinny iPhone 6 is 0.00006 m3 without taking its rounded corners or camera bulge into account.

Also, Escalades are very loud.

Winner: Automobile (Cherry-picked numbers never lie.)


iPhone: The current iPhone uses the A8 chip, a 2nd generation, 64-bit version of the ARM microprocessor designed by Apple. It’s fast and energy efficient. Its dual-core design with graphic processor has over 2 billion transistors.

Apple surprised many with the announcement of a 64-bit processor when the A7-based iPhone 5s was introduced almost 2 years ago. Apple’s competitors are still catching up with 64-bit architectures, both in processors and software.

Automobile: Many of the controllers in a car have dual-core microprocessors. This is to handle load and sometimes for functional safety considerations (each microprocessor checking/duplicating the other one to make sure everything is okay). There is an engine controller, a transmission controller, a brake controller. There is an airbag/safety controller, an instrument panel controller, a “body” controller.

There is a controller for tire pressure sensors and a controller for remote entry.

There are controllers for things I break and go, “it cost how %&#$*! much?!” when I try to replace them at the dealer.

The processors range from 8-bit to 64-bit design, depending on costs and requirements.

With some optional equipment, there are even more controllers.

An engine controller for a V8 engine that can spin to 6,000 rpms may have to check fuel/air mixtures, knock, timing, spark, etc., 200 times a second. (Disclosure: I’m an electrical engineer—don’t trust my numbers for internal combustion engines.)

Winner: Automobile


iPhone: The iPhone uses Apple’s M8 chip as a coprocessor. It contains accelerometers, gyroscopes, barometer, and compass to monitor your movement or location, but certainly not both at the same time, right?

(Disclosure: I should probably just let XKCD do the physics jokes.)

Automobile: Accelerometer companies don’t really like to sell parts to the auto industry. We typically have higher requirements than the consumer industry with lower volumes, and we’re cheap. For example, most sensors in a car must meet an operational temperature specification of -40°C and +85°C. The iPhone 6 has an operational temperature range of 0°C to 35°C (-20°C to +45°C storage). So if it doesn’t pass auto industry requirements, a sensor manufacturer could probably still sell it to the consumer market.

Am I saying that the iPhone gets the sensor scraps from the auto industry? No, of course not, because I don’t really know that. What I’m doing is strongly implying it without evidence. Big difference.

Winner: Automobile (Cars I work with even have non-cancer-causing-radar-sensors-or-so-they-tell-me, which is way cooler than a barometer.)

User Interface

iPhone: After a licensing agreement with Xerox for its user interface, Apple revolutionized personal computers with the Macintosh and its graphically-based operating system. So it’s no surprise when it did it again with the iPhone. Before the iPhone, the only time I poked my Symbian-based Sony Ericsson P800 with my finger was whenever I lost one of the three styluses it came with.

Apple is famous for keeping a tight rein on its designs. The advantage is a consistency in how things work on its platforms. But there’s also a simplicity in how it works so a user can figure it out with always resorting to a manual. I use the “mom rule” for this. If my mom can figure it out, then it’s good. My mom’s voice mailbox had been full the previous 10 years before she got an iPhone. She figured out visual voice mail on her own to finally clear her mailbox.

Automobile: Oh, god. Where to begin?

Most people can figure out the simple things, like the steering wheel. The gas pedal and brake pedal get a pass as well. The gear lever—now it starts getting complicated.

I once rented a manual transmission BMW in Germany. When I tried to leave the tiny hotel parking garage in the morning, I realized I couldn’t find reverse. I knew about the push-the-button / pull-the-collar-up / push-the-whole-gear-lever-down versions of reverse, but this one stumped me. I ended up pushing the car backwards every time I had to back up. Apparently about half way between 1st and 2nd gear was a little detent to the left. You had to push the gear lever through the detent and up to get reverse.

Do you push the gear lever up or down to upshift with this dual clutch transmission? Which steering wheel paddle is for downshifts, the left or the right? (Pro tip: look for the “+” signs.)

I drive different cars a lot for my job. Things I have a hard time figuring out in new cars include: turning on lights; opening trunks; opening gas caps; decrypting cryptic warning lights; finding out why the car keeps gong! Gong! Gonging! me. (The bells! The bells!)

In some cars, changing the radio station is more dangerous than impaired driving.

And then there are the automotive writers’ favorite whipping boys: Cadillac’s CUE, BMW’s iDrive, Audi’s MMI, Ford’s MyFord Touch, etc. Some have improved over time, such as BMW’s iDrive, but the overall experience hasn’t been the best.

Obviously part of the problem is there are so many manufacturers out there trying to distinguish their cars against the others. If it’s your car, you eventually figure it out. Maybe not all the functions, but at least most of them.

Winner: iPhone (Most people don’t even realize there’s an arrow on their gas tank gauge that indicates which side the gas cap is on. After that you just have to figure out how to open it.)


iPhone: With the iPhone, you can download videos from the iTunes Store. You can watch from YouTube or Vimeo. And with VLC, you can watch in almost any video format that you want.

Automobile: When I plug my iPhone into my car, I can download videos from the iTunes Store. I can watch from YouTube or Vimeo. And with VLC, I can watch in almost any video format that I want.

Winner: Tie

Racing Games

iPhone: EA/Firemonkeys makes more traditional games like Real Racing 3, with realistic cars and actual tracks from around the world. But more interesting is Anki Drive. With Anki Drive you can essentially control a smart slot car with your iPhone. Bots and AI (artificial intelligence) are involved. All good stuff.

Automobile: Sorry—I’m drawing a blank here.

Winner: iPhone (Wouldn’t it be cool if the Anki car would stream the video to your phone so you could see where it was driving as if you were inside the little car? Technology!)

Health & Safety

iPhone: The iPhone has a Health app that tracks activities you do, such as walking or running. With this and other apps, you can track your weight, nutrition, calories. There are many documented cases where the iPhone has helped in losing a lot of weight.

Automobile: Cars probably don’t use much asbestos or lead any more. And other than using it to get to the gym, cars probably won’t help you exercise much.

However, if you didn’t realize you were braking on black ice, the anti-lock brake system (ABS) in your car will pump your brakes up to 15 times per second. And if you still hit something, the front airbags can deploy as fast as 5 milliseconds from the time of impact, inflating in 30-40 ms, faster than a blink of the eye (150 ms). You’re welcome.

Winner: Automobile (Just make sure you don’t have too many things dangling from your key chain, that your floor mat is compatible, your airbag accident isn’t in a high humidity area, and nobody rear-ends your Pinto afterwards.)

Usage while Intoxicated

iPhone: There is a strong probability that after staggering out of the bar at 2 am, you will drunk dial your ex and leave a long, rambling message on their voice mail.

Automobile: Jail or Death.

Winner: Tie


iPhone: Apple has their policy on environmental responsibility on their website. They strive to use materials in their products that can be recycled. Apple will also help you recycle your old iPhone products.

Automobile: Cars use recycled dinosaurs.

Winner: iPhone

Hazardous Material

iPhone: The lithium battery in the phone can heat up and catch on fire or the knock-off power adapter you bought for the iPhone is poorly made and electrocutes you while playing Flappy Bird in your bath.

Automobile: Except for the gasoline, brake fluid, pyrotechnics in the airbags and belt pre-tensioners, a teeny, teeny, tiny bit of mercury, and new car smell, everything’s just fine.

Winner: iPhone


iPhone: The iPhone 6/6 Plus is the best, shiniest, most phantasmagorical iPhone that Apple has ever created. Until next fall.

Automobile: People pay stupid money for old cars without Bluetooth.

Winner: Automobile (There’s a guy with a Motorola StarTac penning his missive to me right now.)


iPhone: There are regular news of security vulnerabilities of computer systems all the time. The iPhone is not immune to these vulnerabilities, but the computer industry takes security more seriously than the automotive industry. Probably because it happens more often. We store a lot of personal and confidential information in our iPhones. And we can now pay for things with it, too. These are good reasons for having a secured device.

Apple isn’t infallible. People jailbreak iPhones. Apple closes the vulnerability, and the jailbreakers find another one. Rinse. Repeat.

For phones, I’m sure Symbian-based ones are the most secure because there aren’t any in the wild to hack into, but I would rather take my chances with the iPhone.

Automobile: In the past, automotive security meant a steering column lock or standing back if someone had a Viper car alarm.

But now manufacturers are starting to get concerned about security as cars are getting on-line. And with physical access to a car, it is possible to start controlling systems in a car, like the engine and brakes.

Tuners have been reverse engineering engine control modules for some time to make their own modifications.

This may not be possible in the future as manufacturers implement cyber-security in the vehicles. But as we’ve seen in the computer world, guys breaking security systems are pretty good.

I have access to a lot of internal network information, and yet I can’t always control the car like I’m supposed to because “Bob” from over the cubicle wall/company B/customer didn’t tell me I had to flip a bit someplace. Or whatever. This slows development, but in the end we get the product out. More or less. Securing cars will be similar. New defenses will slow some attackers, but they may eventually figure it out.

Winner: Tie (As an engineer I want access to stuff I shouldn’t have access to, but as a user it frightens the crap out of me when someone else can get access.)

Quantity at Cranky Driver’s Household

iPhone: 3

Automobile: 4

Winner: Automobile

Everyone needs help counting now and then
Obligatory Excel Chart

And the winner is…

…the Automobile!

So that’s my completely unbiased assessment of these two products. (Disclosure: I’m completely biased.)

“Comparison is the death of joy.”
—Mark Twain

[1] [Update 2015-07-31] Apple currently makes more money than ExxonMobile, but ExxonMobile has made crap loads of money in the past.

Crankiness Rating:
(Disclosure: Subjective evaluations are waaay easier than objective ones, especially when you already have an agenda.)