While at first the rumors seemed far-fetched, a new report from the Financial Times lends serious credibility to the idea that Apple is working in earnest on car-related technologies beyond just CarPlay. Dashboard software may be part of its automotive designs, but the FT claims that Apple is on a headhunt for employees with experience in car design and vehicle engineering, rather than just software and infotainment. Apple chasing automotive dreams should not in fact come as a much of a surprise, however, given the size of the company’s war chest, and the changing nature of what constitutes a “tech” company.
Apple may have become the most valuable company in the world thanks to a relatively streamlined line of product offerings and a willingness to focus on a few things rather than trying to do it all, but that doesn’t preclude it from exploring a wider range in the future. And increasingly, it’s becoming apparent that being a computing company doesn’t mean sticking to making computers, be they PCs or mobile devices. CarPlay is an example of how the concept of a platform is beginning to leak beyond specific gadgets and incorporate itself more ubiquitously into a user’s life, but it’s naive to think things will stop there.
That doesn’t mean Apple will make a car – but it does mean it would be stupid not to consider what such a car would look like if it did. In the near-term that probably means examining how Apple could ensure the iOS experience can grow to expand the entire dashboard system of an automobile, rather than residing in a mostly siloed area around navigation and entertainment like CarPlay. Especially if the promise of fully automated self-driving cars becomes a reality, it’s natural to expect that these will mimic our home environments in terms of more fully supporting the computing platforms we choose to surround ourselves with, be they Apple’s, Google’s or those of their competitors.
Hiring a few key assets who can anticipate a future in which Apple goes even further, building both software and hardware in tandem for transportation systems that may closely resemble what we think of as cars today, or that may look like something out of Minority Report, is not a big deal for Apple. Even assuming that these hires are commanding top dollar in terms of annual salary, it’s probably not even a blip on the radar of Apple’s accounting department. Apple can afford to anticipate just about any eventuality at this point, in fact, but cars are low-hanging fruit, given the potential for the market exposed by Google’s self-driving cars, as well as automated vehicle efforts by just about every major car maker, and by Tesla’s ability to build a competitive business in such a short time as a complete industry newcomer.
Even if it’s just a side bet, Apple dedicated a research facility with iPhone engineering veterans bodes very well for CarPlay and continued advances in that regard. More and more, Apple appears to be readying for a future in which devices that surround us act as terminals for a single central platform, and that’s exciting whether or not they ever build their own iCar.