Apple might build a car. Without question the company is exploring the potential of building a car. Apple has the money and engineering chops to build a car (and what engineering it does not already have internal to the company can be purchased).
There is precedent in a newcomer bringing a successful (loose definition implied) new car to the world in Tesla, the most Apple-like of 21st century automobiles. If the money and capability is already there, what would Apple do different with Apple Car to distinguish it from new era automobiles?
Design? Or, Manufacturing?
There is much that goes into manufacturing a new automobile but let me outline five major issues that Apple will need to consider because how Apple builds a car might be the most innovative thing the company does.
Design – The term is applied to many aspects of a product, but usually design means how a product looks. Apple considers design to encompass how a product looks, how it feels, its usability, the internal components, and the manufacturing process. I would not expect Apple to deviate from that approach.
Nevertheless, an Apple designed car must look both familiar and different than competing automobiles, just as Tesla does with the Model S. Visually, an Apple designed automobile will be familiar but unique.
Feel – Apple products have a very distinct feel that is married to the product’s look. You see it– and feel it– in the Mac, iPhone, iPad, and other Apple-designed products. An Apple designed car will require a unique view toward interior (and exterior) materials, and provide a level of creature comfort not necessarily displayed by competing car manufacturers. Unlike the smartphone industry, the automobile industry has mature design standards and expectations which Apple will need to meet, then exceed.
Usability – Apple is a hardware company, but thanks to the DNA imbued into the company from co-founder Steve jobs, Apple considers hardware and software integration to be part of the company’s success. Modern cars, of which Tesla is a prime example, are now a mixture of hardware and software, which is right in line with Apple’s wheelhouse. Tesla gets high marks for software capability, due in no small part to CEO Elon Musk’s vision and driving force, and the company’s rampant hiring of former Apple engineers. Assuming that an Apple Car would be all electric, is to assume that software will match hardware in many unique ways, and drivability will be almost, if not, fully autonomous, which is software controlled.
Components – What would Apple bring to an electric, fully autonomous car? A different electric motor? All wheel drive? A different battery? Apple’s history suggests a clever blend of nearly off-the-shelf components blended together with software to form a somewhat unique new product, displayed and used in ways not fully appreciated or even discovered by competitors.
Manufacturing Process – Apple of the 21st century has become a supply chain company that also designs the manufacturing process. The company has invested billions into third party companies for technology that makes its way into Apple products. A good example is the use of lasers to carve aluminum cases for Mac, iPhone, iPad, and even Watch. Few companies match Apple’s manufacturing fit and finish, and we should not expect anything different from an Apple Car. The question is, ‘What would Apple do different to build a car?‘
Why Apple Car?
The problem I have with the whole idea of an Apple Car is, “Why?” What constitutes success? Tesla started with a partner and an off-the-shelf Lotus design to ease into manufacturing, then added the necessary components of electric motor and software. From that initial Roadster came the capability and experience to design the more successful Model S.
What’s the end game? Tesla claims to be able to build and distribute an affordable electric car. Where does Apple fit in and how does the math support an iPhone-like product for the automobile industry of the 21st century. For example, if, after a few years, Apple could sell 250,000 Apple Cars, at 50,000 each because Apple will remain a premium brand, the annual revenue would be approximately $12-billion. That’s not much more than estimates for Apple Watch?
Tesla has two models with a third– to get the company to S-3-X– on the way. Other automobile manufacturers are ramping up their all electric and potentially fully autonomous vehicles, so the competition is intense. So, why would Apple build a car? Money? Ego? Competition for the hearts and minds of the future?