Will We Ever See An Apple Car?

Apple CarPlay Features
Apple's CarPlay system is depicted in this image. Photo : Photo by Chevrolet via The Verge/Youtube

After around two years of speculation, some tech experts believe now that the mysterious Apple Car concept will never actually materialize.

Project Titan's Rumored Change Of Focus

The rumored and secretive Apple Car project might go through a period of difficulties. A Bloomberg report claims that plenty of members of Project Titan have left and Apple had fired many others. This report comes after a series of previous reports and rumors that suggested turmoil within the Project Titan, Apple's secretive initiative to create its own self-driving car.

According to Business Insider, previously Apple planned to develop an autonomous electric vehicle that uses future technologies not yet accessible today. At one time Apple Car engineers had considered some pretty futuristic concepts. For instance, they would have replaced the ignition key with a fingerprint, making the Apple car to operate at the push of a single button.

This latest report about the Apple Car project's change of focus is unconfirmed, like all those before. However, there are reasons to trust it, given it comes from the esteemed Apple guru Mark Gurman. According to him, the shift in Apple's Project Titan reflects a turning away from the idea of building an actual car, replaced instead with the goal of designing the system required to make any given car autonomous.

The report claims that Project Titan is now focused on developing and testing a vehicle self-driving system that Apple could license to vehicle manufacturers. The problem with this new approach, if the rumors prove to be true, is that an autonomous driving system might be hard to sell to carmakers.

There are just a few partnerships in the industry, but much of the development of self-driving technology is proprietary. Most of the top auto manufacturers are going their own way, trying to use car autonomous driving as a point of differentiation to stand out above the rest.

Apple's Potential Target Market

According to CNET, most bigger manufacturers are developing on their own largely duplicative technology, aiming to be the first to get on the market with safer, smarter self-driving systems, rather than partnering up to share expertise. In this context, if the major OEMs are having their own autonomous driving technology projects, Apple is going to have to target the smaller ones. Only carmakers without big R&D budgets may be interested in acquiring Apple's future self-driving system.

In this category might be included brands like Subaru that did not announce any plans of having even semi-autonomous functionality on the road in the near future. A company like Subaru could certainly use an autonomous driving system developed by a tech powerhouse like Apple. This kind o partnership would not necessary mean that Subaru's cars would also borrow Apple's design aesthetic.

Apple will face strong competition, even with the smaller car manufacturers. Companies like Mobileye and Delphi are also developing autonomous driving systems that could be implemented in any car. While not being as well-known as Apple brand, both of these tech companies already have a history of delivering reliable solutions, as well as long-running and extensive partnerships with car manufacturers.

Apple Could Find A Better Niche

With the competition already getting hot in the self-driving car industry, Apple could find a better niche to focus its research and developing efforts. From a technological point of view, there are many things that can be optimized in a car. Autonomous driving is largely a software problem far easier to solve than trying to engineer and deliver a completely custom car.

For Apple, this new path in the self-driving car industry is far from an easy one. The company will have to try to partner with manufacturers that already made their own investments into autonomous driving solutions. It might be difficult to convince them that a company famous for its smartphones can actually deliver a driverless car solution safe enough for customers to trust with their lives.

I believe that for Apple an easier way forward would have been pursuing from the beginning the infotainment systems and the dashboard. There is still a place for innovation in the field. User interfaces could be improved, as well as the dashboard performance.

If Apple would use its design expertise for a clean-slate approach to the dashboard and infotainment systems of today's cars, the company would be an almost certain winner. It is likely that manufacturers would consider licensing an Apple car dashboard UI. Solutions like CarPlay are the first step in that direction, allowing your iPhone to control various aspects of your in-car experience.

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