Is Apple building an iCar?
Over the past few weeks, rumours Apple is working on a car have started to swirl, and they won’t go away.
At first, this seems highly unlikely, but is there any chance it could be true? We lay out the case for and against, so you can decide for yourself.
Apple is working on an iCar
Information on the “iCar” is scant, other than it’s apparently codenamed “Project Titan”, according to the Wall Street Journal. Rumours are also circulating that the
As for how it will work, there are two main theories: the first is that Apple’s creating a self-driving vehicle much like Google’s, the second, that Apple’s creating an electric vehicle, but one that’s still controlled by a human driver.
Assuming Apple is working on a car, which is it more likely to be?
Apple is working on a self-driving car
It would be wrong to say the self-driving car market is hotting up, as there are no autonomous vehicles on sale yet. Nevertheless, there’s a lot of money being poured into R&D in this area – while Google may be the most vocal about what it’s doing, companies as diverse as the Nokia-owned mapping company HERE, BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, GM and Rinspeed are getting in on the action more quietly.
According to Reuters‘ sources, Apple is looking to get a slice of this action.
Since the launch of the iPod, Apple has had a habit of leading the pack, rather than following it, but that doesn’t mean it’s been totally innovative. The iPod built on the legacy of the Walkman, and in doing so ultimately left the pioneer of the portable music device, Sony, in the dust. The same goes for the iPhone – PDAs like Palm and proto-smartphones like Blackberry had existed for years before the iPhone came along, while companies like Motorola, Ericsson and, in particular, Nokia had succeeded in making mobile phones mass consumer devices.
As with the iPod and portable music players, Apple built on the existing mobile phone market to create something that was better looking, more tech-packed, and more flexible than the competition. It remains to be seen how the Apple Watch will do, but the MO is the same – wait for the market to be built up by others, then land its own product on top as a consumer item that’s both luxury and essential.
If Reuters’ source is correct, Apple may be taking the same tack with cars.
The unnamed person pointed out that “fully automated driving is an evolution”, growing from connected, through partially autonomous to fully autonomous cars, and something car manufacturers are already working on.
“Apple is interested in all the potential ways you can evolve the car; that includes autonomous driving,” they said, yet added that “[Apple doesn’t] appear to want a lot of help from car makers.”
What does this mean in terms of vehicles? Well, if you’d said back in 1998 that in ten years time Apple, the niche computer maker, would be selling consumer phones to the mass market within ten years and watches within 20, most people would have been skeptical to say the least. But it’s made a huge success doing both those things. Just because it hasn’t made a self-driving car yet, doesn’t mean it won’t, particularly if the ground has been laid by other companies, such as Google.
Apple is working on an electric car
In many ways, if Apple is working on an iCar, this scenario, as suggested by the The Wall Street Journal’s sources, makes more sense.
Apple has placed a huge (and we mean huge) emphasis on boosting its green credentials over the past few years, committing to running its cloud on 100% renewable energy and establishing solar power deals in both California and Arizona in 2015.
Indeed, IT sector analyst Gary Cook of Greenpeace twice commended Apple for “making good on that commitment”, adding that “other Fortune 500 CEOs would be well served to make study of Tim Cook”.
In short, Apple’s really into this stuff, almost as much as it is health and fitness.
It also fits the previously mentioned model of “building where others have gone before”. Electric cars were once a joke, hybrids have now been commonplace for years and charging points for fully-electric cars like the Nissan Leaf are becoming an increasingly frequent sight in multi-storey car parks. Indeed, Apple has committed to installing 300 electric vehicle charging stations at its Cupertino HQ as part of its corporate social responsibility (CSR) commitments.
There are also fewer barriers to entry to the market with electric cars, not least because they’re already permitted on the road and the infrastructure to charge them is already in place. The question, however, would be what Apple could bring to the party that isn’t already offered by Nissan, G-Wiz or Toyota.
Apple isn’t working on an iCar
The truth is, getting into the car market is hard. There are an enormous number of very powerful players already out there who pretty much have the market and the supply chain sewn up. While Apple has a lot of money available to invest, automotive would be a strange and potentially unwise place to put it.
This leaves a couple of options. The first is a Smart Car-style collaboration with an existing car manufacturer, for example Smart was the product of a hook-up between Daimler-Benz and Swatch. In this kind of situation, Apple could have control over the aesthetic design and software, while the established manufacturer deals with the nuts and bolts (or gears and gaskets if you prefer).
This isn’t too far out in terms of possibility. Apple’s chief designer, Jonny Ive, and his friend and recent Apple new hire Marc Newson are both petrolheads, and Ive has spoken out about the disappointment he and Newson feel about the design of modern cars.
“There are some shocking cars on the road,” he told The New Yorker, going on to call a Toyota Echo “insipid” and “just nothing”.
While Apple isn’t normally given to putting its branding on other people’s hardware, if it wanted to enter the automotive market this kind of collaboration, perhaps even coming up with a new brand, or “designed by Apple” stamp, would be the way to go about it.
But the most likely answer is that Apple is working on new in car software. The company already has Apple CarPlay, a dashboard iOS that syncs with the user’s iPhone to offer Apple Maps, hands free calling and wireless music streaming. Extending this to become the standard OS for connected cars is easy to imagine, and would be a clever play on Apple’s part.
It would seem the company is also looking to beef-up its mapping credentials. The car in the video below, which originally caused a stir and set rumours of self-driving cars flying, actually looks to us like it’s been kitted out with sensors to create a 3D rendering of its environment.
This would make sense if Apple wants to offer 3D mapping software to manufacturers, as a rival to HERE or Google, and allow it to incorporate street-level imaging into its iOS and OS X map software as well.
There’s another element that would back up this assumption – a patent for a “vehicle accessory” that would let the user remotely turn on climate control, seat warmers, or open the doors, as well as play music with their smartphone.
All this would fit nicely with Apple’s Internet-of-Things strategy, as manifested by HomeKit, and provide a continuum for the user from device to home to vehicle and beyond.
Is apple making an iCar: the verdict
Never say never, but we seriously doubt Apple is working on a car, at least independently. Trying to make its software the gold standard for connected vehicles? Now that would be a very strategically clever move and, if we had to put our money anywhere, it would be there.