One of the worst kept secrets in technology is that Apple is working on a car. What we don’t know is how much progress has been made, what Apple will do differently, and when a car will be introduced and then launched.
As a car fanatic (I live in Brooklyn, work in Manhattan, and own six cars I seldom use except to leave the city) reading everything possible about Apple’s potential and efforts to date, I’ve come to a conclusion. An Apple Car? No. This won’t work.
A Lower Gear
Apple is a hardware company that loves to make software to sell the hardware. Future cars, as exemplified by Tesla’s Model S and other electric cars manufactured by well known brands, will be a combination of electric drive and an array of software that will be semi to fully-autonomous.
Wait. It’s that exactly what Apple does best; a unique blend of hardware and software? Yes. And, as usual, Apple is late to a party started by others. It happened with the Mac, retail stores, iPod, iTunes and Music Store, iPhone, iPad, and Watch. Yet, Apple managed to set the standard for each industry and while dominating in marketshare (except for iPod and iTunes; an obvious anomaly) dominates completely in mindshare and profitshare.
An Apple Car? Sorry, the mechanics are different, the effort to compete is massive, Apple is way, way behind the curve, and Apple doesn’t have anything to differentiate Apple Car from Tesla or other brands already years ahead of Apple.
Mechanics – car manufacturing is not electronics manufacturing, and it can be argued that Apple doesn’t really manufacture iPhone and iPad anyway; they merely partner with Chinese assembly companies that deliver finished products to tightly controlled specifications. Tesla did it the right way with the beta Roadster before the finished Model S.
Competition – every major car manufacturer is years ahead of Apple in electric and semi-autonomous vehicle design and construction techniques already; where they’re weak, though, is software but that is changing fast.
Playing Catch Up – it can be argued that Apple always plays catch up; Mac, iPod, iPhone, iPad, Watch– all are catch up products that Apple advanced to state of the art with its unique combination of software and hardware integration. A car is different. Apple has been in electronics– hardware and software– since 1976. Apple Car is not the same kind of product.
Differentiation – maybe Apple has something that Tesla, Mercedes-Benz, General Motors, Toyota and others do not have but no one watching from the outside can put a finger on it. Indeed, there is turmoil inside Apple’s Project Titan (the Apple Car) which suggests that efforts to date have gone nowhere, and with the addition of engineering legends Bob Mansfield and Dan Dodge, the founder and CEO of QNX Software (owned by BlackBerry, but the preeminent software in most cars these days) Apple might be changing gears; leaving behind the Apple Car manufacturing process and moving toward providing the self-driving to semi-autonomous software to car manufacturers (their weakest spot).
Along with Google and Android Auto, Apple’s Car Play is available in a rapidly growing number of vehicles not manufactured by Google or Apple. There can’t be much money for anyone that kind of arrangement, and it’s a few levels removed from what software for Apple Car could be.
Apple might have a chance to sell software to automobile manufacturers, but what is more likely is that major car makers will go it alone; Tesla style. Regardless, the math just doesn’t work for software sales, either. Even with tens of millions of vehicles sold each year, Apple runs the risk of becoming more like Microsoft; selling software on someone else’s hardware yet will never have the dominance the Windows maker enjoys.
If there’s no Apple Car down the road because the company cannot differentiate itself from Tesla and others, what good is Apple software to the industry that is already far ahead of Apple’s car software efforts? The money and the market just are not there.
I don’t see a car in Apple’s future anymore.