Since the start of the year, Apple Inc. has been making moves that suggests an interesting venture for the technology giant. The company that revolutionized personal computing is now looking to revolutionize personal transportation.
The automotive industry is one of the most complex and demanding markets in business, with companies desperately keeping up with shifts in safety regulations, societal and cultural expectations, and the latest breakthroughs in technology. Car companies strain to keep up, barred by the common three to eight year life cycle required to produce and profit off of a product while managing to keep it marketable. Model refreshes come sooner, package options are growing, and the amount of gadgetry available on the modern vehicle grows at almost a daily rate. It is no easy task, with many who have tried, and many more who have failed.
Enter Apple, Inc., the company that redefined the personal computer industry decades ago, and who has since revolutionized the music industry, phone industry, and even produced entirely new technologies and industries, is going to give the automotive game a run for its money.
Rumors of the so-called Apple Car began years ago, but have become increasingly detailed recently. Earlier in the year, outlets began reporting about mysterious vans, insiders recruiting industry specialists to a project called “Titan,” construction of secretive facilities to support automotive maintenance and manufacturing, self-driving all-electric research, and more of the sort. Of course there has been extremely scarce information from Apple itself.
Many initial thoughts denied any possibility of Apple developing a unique model, but rather working to produce a new frontier of technologies for distribution to the existing industry. The first of these new efforts is Apple CarPlay, which is a software that can replace the often lackluster infotainment systems developed by car manufacturers in existing models. CarPlay allows the user to connect their phone to the car, and offers an interface that is far more familiar to the user with access to navigation, music, and other apps found on the personal device.
Yet it was always a dream of Steve Jobs, the man who brought success upon the tech company, to produce an “Apple iCar” that would have the same effect on the people’s perception of a car as the Mac and iPhone made on the computer and the phone. Jobs applauded Tesla and defended the automaker when it was called ugly by an Apple board member, stating that the impressive platform developed by the promising automaker was a remarkable accomplishment. It’s starting to look like his successor Tim Cook is going to try and make it happen for Apple.
Beyond the established rumors that the Apple Car project is called “Project Titan,” and will be an all-electric autonomous van-like vehicle, there are other signs that suggests what the company may be up to. Marc Newson, a top Apple designer, gave an interview to The Wall Street Journal in which he criticized the current state of the automotive industry. When asked what his designer pet peeve may be, he replied:
“..the automotive industry. There were moments when cars somehow encapsulated everything that was good about progress. But right now we’re at the bottom of a trough.”
It is interesting that a lead designer for a company that develops hand-held computing devices would call out an industry he doesn’t work for in an otherwise unrelated interview. Newson is the designer behind Ford’s 1999 o21c concept, his only (public) automotive effort.
Photo Credit: Dave Pinter
A courtship meeting reported by Reuters in July occurred a year ago between Apple Chief Executive Tim Cooke and the luxury car market superstar BMW. Cooke took a tour of the all new BMW i3 production line, which was developed from scratch to produce the luxury brand’s new lineup of hybrid and electric models. Apparently Apple at one point was considering working with BMW on developing the “iCar”, with the discussion ending on an open note. It is speculated that Cook is interested in pursuing an individual development project first, but is not willing to close the door on a deal with a more established company just yet.
Apple also recently hired Doug Betts, a former manufacturing and quality control executive at Chrysler, and is now under the Apple “Operations Team,” as well as former Mercedes-Benz Research and Development exec Johann Jungwirth. AppleInsider is also reporting that other departments are being depleted of manpower and resources to sustain the company’s automotive efforts. Rumors of illegal recruitment by Apple have led to a lawsuit from battery production company A123, claiming Apple’s looting of talent has put operations at a standstill.
A byproduct of Apple’s ramped up development efforts for a car may be a revolutionary 27 to 50 inch heads-up-display windshield. Reports suggest that the company is working on a HUD display that would project apps and information in front of the driver, using up the entire windscreen. It is speculated the technology would be gesture-controlled, and may further integrate the user’s phone through Apple CarPlay.
With all the news and rumors flying around, Apple is undoubtedly taking a good look at entering the automotive industry in a large capacity. Whether they revolutionize the way we interact with our car, or revolutionize the car itself will be an exercise in “wait and see.” After all, as Apple executive Jeff Williams put it, the car is the “ultimate mobile device.”