Apple boss Tim Cook has dropped some hints as to the state of the company’s much-anticipated Apple Car project.
In an interview with the New York Times (opens in new tab), Cook was expectedly evasive when probed about Apple’s autonomous vehicle plans, but nonetheless acknowledged the existence of in-development self-driving technology.
“In terms of the work that we’re doing [in that field], obviously, I’m going to be a little coy on that,” Cook said, before adding, “The autonomy itself is a core technology… If you step back, the car, in a lot of ways, is a robot. An autonomous car is a robot. And so there’s lots of things you can do with autonomy. And we’ll see what Apple does.”
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Cook was then pushed on the question of whether the Apple Car – officially known as Project Titan – would end up being a fully-fledged vehicle or software-based project. “We love to integrate hardware, software, and services, and find the intersection points of those because we think that’s where the magic occurs. And so that’s what we love to do. And we love to own the primary technology that’s around that.”
While Cook and Apple are evidently reluctant to share details surrounding their plans for autonomous technology, his failure to deny that the project will focus on a self-driving car suggests Apple is still entertaining the prospect of producing an on-the-road vehicle, rather than merely an in-car operating system to be distributed among existing auto manufacturers.
Tellingly, Cook also caveated his comments by saying: “We investigate so many things internally. Many of them never see the light of day. I’m not saying that one will not.” It’s clear, then, that something is going on over at Apple – we just don’t know exactly what yet.
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Ironically, Cook’s suggestion that Apple “love[s] to own [its] primary technology” points to the central problem the company has faced in its failed efforts to partner with an auto manufacturer on its vehicle project.
Despite being widely-considered the most successful business in the world, Apple's expertise lies in tech development, not automotive manufacturing. That means it needs help from another organisation if it hopes to build a road vehicle, but it would seem that the big car brands have been unwilling to become a bit-part supplier – in the same way Foxconn is to Tesla – on a vehicle that would ultimately bear the Apple name.
This seems to be the reason why Apple’s partnership talks with the likes of Hyundai, Kia and Nissan came to an abrupt halt. As for the latter, a recent report (opens in new tab) from the Financial Times suggests "contact was brief and the discussions did not advance to senior management levels following divisions over branding" – which tells you everything you need to know about the point of contention between both Apple and the manufacturers it hopes to partner with.
Tim Cook’s latest comments – while undoubtedly significant given the relative silence surrounding the project until now – still don’t suggest the Apple Car vision will become a reality any time soon.
Company analyst Ming-Chi Kuo recently claimed (opens in new tab) that the Apple Car might not be launched until 2028 or later, given the continued impasse in negotiations, so expect to be waiting a long while to see it on the road.
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