Is Apple Eyeing the Automotive Industry?

by Jeff Wiener on February 17, 2015

As wild tech rumours go, well this one’s a doozey, but last week Business Insider reported that Apple may be developing its Apple-branded connected car, a project that will reportedly “give Tesla a run for its money.” While largely unsubstantiated, save for one unsolicited email from an anonymous Apple employee, the rumour has quickly developed legs and subsequently has run rampant across the tech world over the weekend, which leads me to wonder, could Apple really become an automotive company?

When Apple first debuted the first iPhone almost a decade ago the company underwent a significant metamorphosis, transitioning from a struggling PC-based company into a dominant mobile titan. While the mobile market was nothing new, Apple was able to make a strong entry, radically changing the way mobile devices looked and operated and effectively changing the entire course of the industry, building a mobile empire through its commitment to controlling the entire mobile production process from beginning to end.

Of course the leap from computer to handheld mobile isn’t all that far, a natural progression for the company I would say, whereas at first blush the leap from mobile to automotive seems like a wild departure from Apple’s core competence. But considering the recent development track of the automotive industry, perhaps the car isn’t as far from the handheld mobile device as one might initially think, as in-vehicle technology is quickly becoming the next frontier of mobile development. Why would Apple simply want to supply automotive companies with the technology when with a little effort Apple could just do everything itself?

“Apple’s latest project is too exciting to pass up,” the unnamed source told Business Insider. “I think it will change the landscape and give Tesla a run for its money.” Now to fuel the fire Apple does employ many former Tesla employees, some 50 mechanics, manufacturing, and robotics engineers now employed at Cupertino, meaning Apple may have acquired the know-how to get in the automotive game (although to be fair, Tesla has stolen away three times that many Apple employees).

The problem, of course, with such an unsubstantiated rumour is that it would require one of two things to be true: 1) An Apple employee would risk his/her job to break Apple’s code of silence and convince Business Insider that their vague rumour had some credibility, or 2) Apple has purposely leaked this rumour to Business Insider in an calculated effort to fuel the fire. However neither seems practical, risking one’s job for a vague rumour or the notion that Apple would acknowledge the efforts of a would-be competitor.

Further, as I mentioned, the idea of becoming an automotive company seems too far afield from Apple’s core strengths as a mobile device manufacturer seems to offer enough evidence that this story is nothing but baseless speculation, but yet some Apple analysts disagree, and say the chances that Apple is working on a car project are almost 100 percent.

While many wonder if Apple has what it takes to be a car company, I would respond, of course it does! The company has the resources and the confidence to be any sort of company it wants; the real question is does Apple want to be a car manufacturer? While I have no solid answer to that question, what I do have is knowledge of Apple’s history (Steve Jobs was said to want to create an Apple car) and an eye for tech trends, and given that the automobile is clearly the next growth market for mobile tech and the company’s penchant for radically transforming markets, what better place than the automotive industry?

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