Gary Marshall goes panning in the river of rumour for nuggets of knowledge
On the face of it, an Apple car is a bizarre idea. What does Apple know about engines, and drivetrains, and braking systems? Apple may have dropped the ‘Computer’ bit of its name, but everything it makes is a computer. It makes a computer that plays music. A computer that makes phone calls. A computer that fits on your wrist. A car is many things, but it isn’t a computer. Or is it? If you think of a car as a computer with wheels, the idea isn’t so bizarre after all. Electric cars aren’t about oily bits and spark plugs. They’re all about computers, and batteries, and innovative, lightweight construction, and those are all things that Apple is pretty good at. It might not have much expertise in making drivetrains or regenerative braking systems, but it can hire (and has hired) people who do. Witness the ongoing poaching of Tesla employees, including Tesla’s top recruiter. That’s a pretty big hint about what Apple’s up to.
Why Apple? Apple isn’t a car company, but it’s packed with car people. Jonathan Ive is a car nut who originally wanted to be a car designer, and his friend and recent Apple hire Marc Newson has designed cars such as the Ford 021C concept. One of Steve Jobs’ ambitions was to take on Detroit with an Apple vehicle. Eddy Cue is on the board of Ferrari.
Why now? Partly it’s the tech – a Tesla wasn’t possible a decade ago – and partly it’s the size of the opportunity. By 2020, when the Apple Car is rumoured to launch, electric cars could be selling 7.5 million units per year. Add in connected cars (predicted to hit 250 million units by 2020) and China’s fast-growing luxury car market and there’s a lot of money to be made. Rather than market share, expect Apple to go where the money is.
An Apple Car wouldn’t just be a car. Think of it as one of the few remaining places where devices don’t have our attention. The smarter our cars get and the less we have to do, the more apps we might want to mess around with. That’s an awful lot of iTunes streams, Apple Maps users, HomeKit connections… CarPlay is a step towards that, but adoption depends on the whims of car firms. Apple doesn’t like to depend on other companies’ decisions.
Car makers say it’s a bad idea –that the car business is tough and Apple would be out of its depth. There’s no way Apple could walk into this market and become a big player. We’re getting déjà vu. Phone makers said that too.