Channel Insider content and product recommendations are editorially independent. We may make money when you click on links to our partners. Learn More.

Ford Motor Co.’s CEO will deliver the keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show this morning as marquee news organizations such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal run with articles about bringing PC functionality to the dashboard, and talking about the dangers of distracted drivers.

But while CES is all about cool new consumer gadgets and Ford’s focus here seems to fit that bill, you’ve got to wonder if another opportunity is being squandered here. By putting your innovation focus on the front end – the user interface, if you will – rather than the efficiency of the machine – in this case the automobile – perhaps you are staying in your comfort zone and missing a bigger opportunity, one that could revolutionize an industry that’s in trouble.

It reminds me of Intel’s drive several years back to ramp up the power on its processors, enabling ever hotter and faster machines. Meanwhile, a tiny company saw the opportunity to exploit Intel’s weakness by going after something that Intel had not considered important enough to focus on or to promote – energy efficiency. Transmeta introduced a low-power, cooler chip called Crusoe. And while some may have considered it underpowered, others lapped it up. What a long battery life it had. And you could keep it on your lap for hours without burning your thighs. (I owned a machine with one of these chips in it and loved it.)

You may say, “Well, where is Transmeta now?” The company died a slow death, finally acquired by Novafora in January a year ago, which months later went out of business.

But Transmeta’s mere existence as a competitor to giant Intel spurred Intel to innovate on power efficiency. Many credit Transmeta with giving Intel the push it needed to create its widely popular mobile brand Centrino – its first lower-powered laptop platform.

And perhaps that’s what Ford and other automobile manufacturers need to spur innovation on the back end in energy efficiency – a little competition. Because, sure, your users want intuitive interfaces that are easy to use. But these days when everyone is talking about doing more with less, virtualizing servers and cutting power and administration costs, some efficiency on the back end could go a long way.

Are your user companies telling you they’d rather have snazzier user interfaces? Or are they asking you for ways to save them money?

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]