Since Steve Jobs return to Apple in the late 1990’s, the company has been known for its ability to enter already existent markets and invigorate them to new growth levels. Apple’s ability to do this is unlike any other company – every single product category Apple has entered since 1997 has seen unprecedented growth after Apple entered.
These categories are few and far between. One of the main reasons Apple has such an unprecedented success rate in new markets is because of the rarity of such moves. Since 1997, Apple has entered only 4 major markets with new devices – The iPod, The iPhone, The iPad, and the Apple Watch – as well as a few more minor but still game-changing markets, like the TV.
While these projects often take years of work before launching, they are often thought of years before work even begins. The iPad, which launched in 2010, was actually being worked on before the iPhone. After Apple wanted to push further ahead with the iPod and worked on a failed phone project with Motorola, Jobs decided to take the technology and resources that were being used for the iPad to work on an iPhone.
The same can be said for Apple’s next big thing: a car. Both Steve Jobs and Jony Ive have well-documented ambitions for creating an automobile. While testifying during the Apple vs. Samsung trial, Phil Schiller discussed how the company had a number of ideas regarding what the post-iPod product should be, as quoted from an AllThingsD Summary of the testimony:
“People suggested all kinds of things Apple could do, Shiller recalled: “Make a camera, make a car, crazy stuff.”
Jobs, Ive, and teams of Apple began seriously considering doing a car, even post iPhone, and met with a number of manufacturers to discuss potential ideas. While speaking at Fast Company’s Innovation Uncensored in 2012, former Apple board member Mickey Drexler revealed Jobs car ambitions:
“Look at the car business – it’s a tragedy in America. Who’s designing the cars? They talk about expense, they talk about this, and then you say ‘Who’s designing the cars?’
Steve’s dream before he died was to design an iCar. It would have been probably 50% of the market.”
Tony Fadell, the founder of Nest and former Leader of the iPod team, also revealed Jobs affinity for cars during an interview with Bloomberg last year:
“We had a couple of walks,” Fadel said in an interview with Bloomberg’s Emily Chang. The pair posed hypothetical questions to each other, such as: “If we were to build a car, what would we build? What would a dashboard be? And what would this be? What would seats be? How would you fuel it or power it?”
Apple, working on the iPad and focusing on growing the iPhone, shelved the car project in 2008. After Jobs passed away in 2011, the company was hard at work on its next big project, a television set. Jobs had made sure his final mark at Apple would be taking over the living room, and while the company got very close to launching a TV, CEO Tim Cook ultimately decided it was a bad idea.
This left Tim Cook having to find a new ‘Next Big Thing’. The TV and Car were the only two major projects left from the Jobs era, and no one had ever seriously considered other ideas. Cook discussed what to do next with his executive team, which led to the Jony Ive inspired Apple Watch.
Once the Apple Watch was near completion, Tim Cook had already decided the car was the next move. This officially began ‘Project Titan’, the codename for Apple’s currently on-going car project, with more than 1000 employees assigned to begin work.
The team was told to begin work on an electric vehicle at a secret location near Apple’s Cupertino campus. The following moths saw major internal issues, between both team members and executives, resulting in Apple shelving the project once again at some point in 2014.
Apple has since begun working on the project again, with a new leader – Bob Mansfield. Mansfield was formerly the Senior Vice President of Technologies at Apple before retiring in late 2012. Mansfield is largely responsible for most of the engineering accomplishments Apple has seen in its post-1997 history. Returning Mansfield for the project shows that Apple has now seriously begun work, and hardware is likely involved.
While reports have indicated that Apple has decided to focus exclusively on autonomous vehicle software with plans to license the software to third-party automakers, this is incorrect. While it is true the company was originally building all the parts of a car, Apple is now focusing one step at a time, starting with the software, and then reexamining the hardware to see if they can pull it off. While Apple is aware of a scenario in which they only get the software done, the company very much intends on building an automobile in the coming years.
There are a number of other factors to suggest Apple’s serious car ambitions. The company has registered three top-level domain names, including apple.cars, apple.auto, and apple.car.
Additionally, Apple has been hiring experts in the car industry throughout the last two years, so much so that Elon Musk has publicly joked about it at Tesla events. From the BBC:
“Mr. Musk said it was ‘obvious’ that the company would try to make a compelling car of its own.
“It’s pretty hard to hide something if you hire over a thousand engineers to do it,” he said.”
Lastly, just this past week, Apple made a major move showing it’s car ambitions by writing a letter to the National Highway Trafic Safety Administration, pleading that new entrants to the auto field should be given the same rights as placed players in the market. Apple goes on to discuss how the government should be careful when establishing laws around autonomous vehicles, warning that privacy must be kept in check. One notable quote admits the company has interests in autonomous transportation:
“Apple uses machine learning to make its products and services smarter, more intuitive, and more personal. The company is investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation, and is excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation.”
It has been well reported that Apple originally intended on launching a vehicle by 2020, however following the original shelving of the project the date is less likely. Currently, Apple executives intend on re-evaluating the project in the beginning of next year to see if the team has shown feasibility in the project.
Binyamin has been writing about Apple and the tech sector as a whole for over five years.
His work has been featured on Forbes, MacWorld, Giga, MacLife, and more.
Additionally, Goldman is the Founder of BZG, a software development company focusing on Apple devices.