Apple’s car ambitions may go well beyond simply developing tech that benefits from automotive advances to serve its existing offerings. A new breakdown by 9to5Mac of the employees amassed under Apple’s automotive lead Steve Zadesky includes a list of talents that go well beyond skill sets which would be useful in building a better version of the dashboard infotainment software CarPlay, for instance, or even of generally improving lithium-ion battery tech for use in future Mac notebooks and iOS devices.
The list of hires reveals people with very specific skill sets that apply to cars in particular, with relatively little potential in terms of more wide-ranging applications, at least on paper. Examples include Robert Gough, who previously worked as a design lead at Autoliv working on “active safety” tech for cars; Hugh Jay, who worked on transmissions and gearboxes for motorsports, commercial and aerospace products; Mujeeb Ijaz (named in the new A123 Systems suit) who was previously Director of Automotive at A123 and head of electric and fuel cell vehicle engineering at Ford; David Perner, another Ford alumnus who worked on new vehicle engineering and design; and Fernando Cuhna, who worked on interior and trim design at GM.
Some have suggested that Apple’s automotive interests don’t necessarily go beyond preparing for a future in which iOS has an even greater presence in the car – and it’s still possible that in the interest of building a holistic in-car software suite, that can handle not only basic infotainment operations but also car diagnostics and performance monitoring in case of a future wherein car-makers give outside software partners more liberty, it has assembled this team of experts (which includes a lot of in-house talent shifted to Zadesky’s team, as 9to5Mac also notes).
It’s beginning to look a lot more likely that Apple is assembling talent in order to test the waters for actual hardware design and engineering, however. As surprising as it would be for Apple to make a serious play in the car market, Daring Fireball’s John Gruber explains with a simple link why outright dismissal of the idea might eventually prove foolish.
I still think that if we knew the extent to which Apple has prepared for other eventualities and projects it ended up not pursuing it wouldn’t be that surprising that it’s doing a talent grab of this magnitude in automotive tech. The problem is bigger than most, which might account for the reported scope of this particular project, but remember also that what Apple considers acceptable risk in terms of investments even in R&D projects that don’t necessarily pan out has also grown immensely, thanks to its massive cash pile, market cap and market position.
Apple declined to comment on this story.