Posted by Karen Haslam 26 February 2015
Why Apple is/isn’t building a car: statement of facts
Be it remembered that on the 26 day of February 2015, the following case came for hearing, and the following proceedings were had; to wit:
Exhibit 1: Reports in the Wall Street Journal (subscription needed) and the FT stating Apple has a team working on a car.
The defense: Esteemed publications have claimed that Apple had a team of 100s of engineers working on an automotive project, codenamed Titan. The team is researching "robotics, metals and materials consistent with automobile manufacturing," according to the WSJ, so it must be true.
The prosecution: It depends who the source was. Presumably the same source has gone to both titles with the claims (based on the timing, anything else would be too coincidental). Do we know this source to be reliable? The FT and WSJ must have thought so, but we have to consider the sources motivation. Could it be a shareholder, for example, looking to make a quick buck of the back of a rumour (after the news broke on 13/14 February Apple’s share price began a steady climb up to 133 by 23 February.)
Exhibit 2: Apple has been poaching Tesla employees and staff from other car manufacturers.
The defense: Wired writes that: “LinkedIn shows forty-six current Apple employees who were formerly at Tesla” and “640 Apple employees with past experience in the automotive industry”. Plus, claims Wired: “Rumors have it the company’s offering up to $250,000 and a 60 percent raise to those who agree to cross over [from Tesla].” According to the WSJ, recent recruits include the head of Mercedes-Benz R&D unit who will be running the project. Electric car battery makers A123 Systems has accused Apple of an “aggressive campaign” to poach its engineers.
The prosecution: Other reports suggest Steve Zadesky, formerly of Ford, is running the project… Nobody seems very sure. We’d need to have more information about what these employees did for the respective car companies. Is Apple hiring battery experts from Telsa, with a view to improving its battery technology for Macs and iOS devices? Are the car manufacturer employees being bought onboard to work on CarPlay technology?
Exhibit 3: An camera-carrying, Apple-registered car, has been sighted.
The defense: A car registered to Apple had been seen driving the streets of America, with four strange looking cameras on its roof. These cameras suggest that Apple is testing a prototype of a self driving car.
The prosecution: Apple already has its own wannabe Google Maps and this is clearly creating a database of Street View style images.
Exhibit 4: Back in 2012 Apple board member Mickey Drexler claimed Steve Jobs wanted to build a car.
The defense: Drexler said: “Look at the car industry; it’s a tragedy in America. Steve’s dream before he died was to design an iCar.”
The prosecution: Drexler also said that: “It would’ve been probably 50 per cent of the market. However, he never did design it.” 50 per cent of the market? Sounds like crazy talk to us.
Exhibit 5: Everyone at Apple loves cars.
The defense: Jony Ive, Eddy Cue and Phil Schiller are all into cars. New recruit Marc Newson and Jony Ive go to the Goodwood Festival of Speed together, according to a New Yorker profile of Jony Ive. That’s a lot of people who would love to build a car.
The prosecution: People who earn a lot of money like cars, because they have a lot of money to spend on cars. The rest of us like watching Top Gear but that doesn’t mean there are a lot of people who would love to buy an Apple car.
Exhibit 6: New recruit Marc Newson designed a concept car in 1999.
The defense: Marc Newson has recently joined the design team at Apple. He has previously designed a concept car for Ford, so he has experience of this kind of thing. Time dug out the drawings and revealed that: “Inside, the vehicle featured seats that swivelled on pedestals and extensive LED lighting”.
The prosecution: Have you seen the concept car he designed, in 1-9-9-9, it’s definitely not something Apple will be rushing to build. It’s certainly of an era (and we’re not that sure the era was even 1999).
Exhibit 7: Apple has filed patents relating to car technology.
The defense: It would appear that the research and development arm of Apple have been researching automotive technology for over a decade. Patents include one for a “programmable tactile touch screen display and man-machine interfaces for improved vehicle instrumentation and telematics,” with the patent filers claiming that: “The automotive dashboard is today a confused array of switches, knobs, dials, gages, and other tactile physical selection or adjustment means and instruments.” That is evidence that Apple is developing a car technology.
The prosecution: Most of these patents are to do with ways in which you could use your iPhone to locate your car, or unlock the door. Even the patent you describe could relate to CarPlay, Apple’s system by which users can get information from their iPhone by speaking to Siri. The patent even addresses the difficulty communicating with Siri in a noisy environment like a car.
Exhibit 8: CarPlay is proof that Apple has sights on the car
The defense: CarPlay is the equivalent of the Rokr (the Motorola phone that Apple put iTunes on to test out the mobile phone industry). Apple has its toe in the automobile water, and is will get involved when the time is right.
The prosecution: Thanks to CarPlayApple has forged relationships with the automotive industry; relationships that could come in handy in the future if CarPlay grows into something bigger.
Exhibit 9: Apple is working on a car technology – CarPlay - that can be added to existing cars
The defense: We know Apple is already working on CarPlay. It is feasible that it is also looking at putting even more technology into car dashboards: technology that will make controlling the car simpler and safer; will help us drive our cars in a more environmentally friendly way; and will provide entertainment to our passengers and information to us. In a few years from now Apple could use the relationships it has built with its CarPlay partners, to fully computerise the cars we drive.
The prosecution: That sounds more probable than an actual car.
Exhibit 10: Back to the Future II and flying cars
The defense: It’s 2015 and according to Back to the Future II we should all be driving flying cars by now. Apple must be working on the technology that makes this possible. Read what Back to the Future II got right and wrong about tech in 2015
The prosecution: Now this is getting silly…