Smartphones introduced browsing on the go. Tablets and connected TVs brought us browsing on the couch. Now with connected cars like the Tesla Model S, we have browsing while driving. Almost lost amid the Tesla Model S’s firsts, the in-dash touchscreen browser was the first available as standard equipment in a large-scale production car. Now that the car has been on the market for over a year, with about 25K cars on the road, we thought it would be interesting to see what Tesla drivers are browsing. We found surprising results that might speak more about Tesla drivers than the future of connected cars.
The Tesla browser
In the Tesla Model S, a large, 17-inch touchscreen replaces the standard center console where you’d typically find audio and climate controls. The touchscreen offers a basic web browser, which supports HTML5, but not Flash. The browser is always available—it can be used even when the car is in motion.
News tops the list of visited sites
We looked at the 100 million digital destinations using Quantcast Measure to learn what types of sites Tesla drivers are visiting. Using a browser identifier known as the user agent to isolate Tesla activity, we found 463K page views over a 30-day period, counting only sites with more than 100 page views.
We found that Tesla browsers visit a lot of news sites, far more than in typical online browsing. Among the most visited news sites was drudgereport.com, which commanded 10 percent of all Tesla page views. The types of news sites visited were also surprising—local news made up 26 percent of sites visited in the news category. Drivers might value these sites because they offer a convenient portal to find local news content, traffic and weather.
Finance news was very popular for Tesla browsers, specifically news about the financial markets. These sites commanded over 13 percent of Tesla browser page views, which is at least twice the share typically seen online.
In the sports news category, the most surprising finding was the popularity of Surfline.com, a site reporting surf conditions and news that was among the top three sports destinations for Tesla browsers. While its popularity reflects the fact that almost half of Tesla sales have been in California, it also reflects the particular interests of Tesla buyers—even in California, surfing sites are typically not among the top sites.
Can’t stop the Tesla Model S
Just how California-centric is the Tesla Model S? To find out, we looked at page views from the Tesla browser by state.
While California was responsible for the majority of Tesla browsing activity, as expected, we were surprised to see Georgia and Texas as the next most active states. Texas bans Tesla from selling directly to customers in the state, but that’s clearly not stopping Texans from purchasing and driving the Model S.
Usage by time of day: Uncovering surprising midday usage
To understand how Tesla drivers use their browsers throughout the day, we looked at browsing activity in California, where the majority of browsing takes place. This data included approximately 416K page views over a 30-day period.
What first stands out is the relatively uniform usage between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m., forming something of a plateau during working hours. The curve is more similar to how people use desktop computers than tablets or mobile phones.
The significant usage during midday and especially afternoon hours begs the question: Do Tesla owners simply drive all day? Or, if we assume Tesla drivers follow regular commute patterns, who is browsing during the day?
We looked at what content is consumed throughout the day for a possible clue. While the morning starts with more Tesla browsers visiting finance and news sites, page views on entertainment sites peak between 1 and 3 p.m., when news visits are slightly down. Between 5 and 7 p.m., page views on news sites rise again. So it does appear that midday browsing on entertainment sites helps create that usage plateau. Whether the people reading news during the commute hours are the same ones looking for entertainment during midday, we might save for a later analysis.
Not the future, but something like it
While the Tesla Model S is the first large-scale production car shipped with a standard web browser, it’s not clear that browsing behavior from the Model S can foretell the future use of connected cars as a media platform. Connected cars will evolve as automakers begin to offer native app environments from Google and Apple. The current browsing activity appears to be more reflective of Tesla owners, half of whom live in California and are self-selected to have higher incomes and be early tech adopters. What we can say is that Tesla owners are using their in-dash browsers for news, finance and more, even though they presumably have smartphones on hand. Tesla drivers have validated the value of an in-car browsing experience that goes beyond destination finding—an early indicator that the connected car is a new media platform to watch.