Yes Apple is going ahead and designing a self-drive car… but then no, no it’s not. The stories about Apple building an iCar just keep coming at the moment, with just as many theories as to why the company’s doing it… or isn’t. What should we make of all this speculation?
In February, the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple had hired a few score automotive engineers to work on a car under the title ‘Project Titan’. The internet was soon abuzz with talk of how Apple would revolutionise auto technology, just as it had its other product areas.
The reality is probably a little simpler and a whole lot less exciting. The interface between today’s cars and their drivers is getting more sophisticated, with in-car technology mimicking our laptop or smartphone experience in terms of functionality.
What many lack, however, is user-friendliness, reliability and all-round smooth performance, which is where Apple might just come in.
After all, why would any customer want to learn an entirely new way of navigating their in-car technology, when it could present an entertainment and communication interface, and connectivity set-up, that integrates seamlessly with the iPhone in their pocket?
Reporting on the speculation, Top Gear writer Paul Horrell opines that customers wouldn’t only prefer to have an Apple interface for their car, but would more than likely be willing to pay a premium for it, too. That achieves a level of desirability that no product manufacturer would turn away from.
Horrell also points out that Apple is rather too addicted to producing high-profit margin, quickly updatable consumer goods, rather than low-margin, high-risk vehicles that become outdated just as quickly. Then there’s the small matter of the US automotive lobby that would need to be met head on, state by state. This all points to the development of in-car technology to be retailed on to other manufacturers, rather than a major shaking up of the motor industry with a revolutionised car design.
Other commentators point out that Apple has a way to go even in achieving this. Apple Maps became an international joke following its 2012 launch, due to its inaccuracies. Customers are used to highly accurate and continually evolving GPS systems and if Apple can’t direct users from A to B, it’s unlikely the company will be trusted with electric cars, never mind self-drive vehicles. Mapping is central to the information services of in-car IT.
So, is Apple’s vision to integrate its technology into the driving experience, or to design and build the hardware as well – ie, the entire car around it? We shall have to wait a bit longer to find out.
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