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Why we think the rumored Tesla Phone is never going to happen

After purchasing Twitter and appointing himself CEO, Elon Musk made some (what can generously be called) controversial changes to the site and its rules. He’s aiming to make Twitter a place where his ideas of free speech can be allowed, which has ultimately resulted in providing “amnesty” to previously banned accounts from white supremacists, conspiracy theorists, and other people who were in violation of Twitter’s old terms of service.

Musk claimed in a tweet that Apple has “threatened to withhold Twitter from its App Store” but didn’t tell him why. The Twitter CEO also claimed that Apple has “mostly stopped advertising” on the social media site, but also can’t seem to figure out why. Apparently, the world’s richest man is unable to understand why a company like Apple would want to take some cautionary steps away from the gasoline he’s pouring on Twitter.

Elon Musk stands looking to his right.
Patrick Pleul/POOL/AFP

Responding to a tweet from podcaster Liz Wheeler, Musk said that if Apple and Google were to remove Twitter from their app stores, he’d … make an “alternative phone.” There is no shortage of comments under his tweet egging him on, saying how that would be a great idea.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

That would be true if, by “great idea,” the commenters mean a complete disaster on just about every front. According to Wheeler, “the man builds rockets to Mars” [he actually does not], so “a silly little smartphone should be easy, right?” Wrong.

Elon Musk seems to think that Apple and Google have a “duopoly” over the smartphone market. While the two companies do control a lot of the industry, they’re far from the only major companies making successful smartphones. Samsung, Tecno, Huawei, Motorola, Oppo, OnePlus, and plenty of others are making some of the world’s most popular devices. However, they simply haven’t broken through in the U.S. and Europe (with Samsung as an exception) in the same way that Apple and Google have. In Asia and Africa, however, it’s a completely different story.

The iPhone 14 Pro's camera module.
Apple iPhone 14 Pro Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

As a basic principle, Musk is coming from a place of misunderstanding as a result of being only partially informed about the smartphone industry, a place he seems pretty comfortable coming from. Simply put, Elon Musk’s potential future smartphone wouldn’t just need to compete with Apple and Google. Instead, it would need to compete with a full, global market of excellent devices made by already established companies that are constantly innovating in the space.

Based on his underwhelming success in a good portion of the companies that he owns — like the internal reports of Twitter’s potential impending bankruptcy, the Boring Company’s overall lack of results, and Neuralink’s ridiculous proposed $10 million implant surgery — there’s no real precedent that a phone made by a company Musk owns would be successful. Obviously, Tesla’s success is the exception to that, but Tesla seems to operate the best outside of Musk’s influence. Musk frequently overpromises with all of his businesses, Tesla included, which generally makes the company look bad and like it’s at the whim of a child who’s spitballing ideas at all times.

Musk’s one legitimate point is that Apple and Google have something of a chokehold on the app store market on iOS and Android. If they were to take Twitter off their platforms, the app would likely die a quick death as most users would jump ship to the plethora of other social media apps on the stores.

If that were to happen, Musk would allegedly make some company start working on an “alternative smartphone” that would boast having Twitter on it as a major feature. At that point, however, Twitter would be completely dead in the water — save for its browser users made up of stubborn Elon Musk fans — so it would hardly be a selling point to a general audience that would have already moved on to new apps.

Nothing Phone 1 Glyph Interface lights.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

On top of all that, the Musk/Tesla phone would still need to compete with the rest of the smartphone market to be successful — and to commit to the years-long and multimillion-dollar process of making a new phone (complete with a brand new operating system and app store). There have been plenty of smartphone companies led by a single figurehead that have marketed themselves as alternative options to Apple and Google — like Carl Pei with Nothing — but they’re all still niche products that don’t seriously compete in the way they set out to.

Microsoft tried charting its own course with Windows Phone years ago, but that project ultimately failed after less than 10 years. If Microsoft couldn’t do it, what reason is there to think Musk could?

It would be a major financial ask for Musk to request that his fans to ditch their iPhones, Pixels, and Galaxy phones to buy his new smartphone.

While Musk has an extraordinarily dedicated core group of fans, they almost certainly aren’t enough to support a newcomer to the mobile industry — and especially not one that rivals Apple and Google. Given how prominently established both companies are in the U.S. market, it would be a major financial ask for Musk to request his fans to ditch their iPhones, Pixels, and Galaxy phones to buy his new smartphone.

Musk is constantly making promises that sound good on paper to his fans. But these promises often never materialize. He promised more than 10 years ago that we’d have humans walking on Mars at this point, which, last I checked, still hasn’t happened. Similarly, I wouldn’t be surprised if this fabled Tesla Phone is more smoke and mirrors.

Currently, Musk seems a little tied up losing money with Twitter, so it feels unlikely that he’d jump headfirst into the smartphone industry, even if Apple and Google were to take it off their app stores. It seems like a much easier and cheaper solution would be to simply follow the companies’ app store rules regarding hate speech and adult content. But what do I know? I didn’t get forced to buy Twitter, Elon Musk did.

Ian Bell
I work with the best people in the world and get paid to play with gadgets. What's not to like?
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