Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

The Fantastic Apple Car

Jean-Louis Gassée:

An autonomous car is good PR and to some it may seem like an inevitability, but as Lee Gomes, a former tech writer for the Wall Street Journal, explains in this Slate piece: The autonomous Google car may never actually happen. This isn’t because Google engineers are incompetent, but because actual, in-the-wild autonomous driving is fraught with countless intractable exceptions. What happens in heavy rain or snow, or when the software behind the camera has trouble recognizing objects that are blown onto the road? What happens when your car approaches a a last minute detour around new construction site?

There are a lot of really great reasons why Apple isn’t building a car. The rumours are pretty explicit; the WSJ is pretty clear that it’s definitely a car project, and not CarPlay-related. Daisuke Wakabayashi, who co-wrote the WSJ story, has decent sources, but he also couched his story in words that make it sound more like a distant and implausible rumour:

The Cupertino, Calif., company has several hundred employees working secretly toward creating an Apple-branded electric vehicle, according to people familiar with the matter. The project, code-named “Titan,” initially is working on the design of a vehicle that resembles a minivan, one of the people said.

An Apple spokesman declined to comment.

Apple ultimately could decide not to proceed with a car. In addition, many technologies used in an electric car, such as advanced batteries and in-car electronics, could be useful to other Apple products, including the iPhone and iPad.

Apple often investigates technologies and potential products, going as far as building multiple prototypes for some things that it won’t ever sell. Any car would take several years to complete and obtain safety certifications.

My impression of this whole thing, for what it’s worth, is that Apple experiments with lots of things immediately related to products and services they’re already working on or shipping. They’ve done it with both software and hardware.1

I wouldn’t be surprised if there is, indeed, a team at Apple that is building a very early prototype of an electric car. I doubt the final result is to be a minivan. I think it’s most likely that this is not aimless spitballing, but nor is it something that they’re entirely committed to shipping. Yet.

  1. Remember the cellular MacBook Pro and the “Asteroid” breakout box for GarageBand, references to which shipped in GarageBand 2.0?

    On the software side — to name just one example — early internal builds of Yosemite included a version of iOS’ Control Centre, similar to Notification Centre, which was to appear on the lefthand side of the screen. This was scrapped in later internal builds. ↩︎