You've heard the rumours by now: forget about waiting for Apple to revolutionise the living room by launching a magical HDTV set straight from your dreams, because it's now trying to innovate in the automobile sector.
That's right. Apple is working on a car. Several reports from the last year have claimed the company is not only poaching former Tesla employees and hiring automotive experts, but it is also secretly starting up a research lab filled with hundreds (maybe 1,000 even) of Apple employees who are working on an electric car codenamed Titan. And that's the tip of the iceberg...
Industry analysts and critics have said they think Apple is working on a car, and earlier this spring, an Apple-leased van was spotted with a strange apparatus on its roof, suggesting Apple might also tackle autonomous technology. Keep reading to find out what else could be happening in Cupertino.
Apple Car: What's the very latest?
November 2015: Tony Fadell, who is known as the “father of the iPod” but is now CEO of Alphabet’s Nest, recently appeared on Bloomberg TV to discuss his time at Apple. During the interview, he revealed that he spoke with Steve Jobs, Apple's then-CEO, in 2008 about how Apple could approach a car project. But at the time, Apple didn't have enough resources for such a project.
Fadell explained: “We had a couple walks, and this was in 2008, about if we were to build a car, what would we build? […] We would be looking at what would a dashboard be, what would seat be, how would you fuel it or power it, but at the end it was always like 'We are so busy, we are so constraint'. You know. It would be great to do it, but we can’t.”
He then commented on Apple’s possible entry into the automotive sector: “If you think about a car - what’s a car? - a car has batteries, it has a computer, it has a motor and it has a mechanical structure. If you look at an iPhone, it has all the same things. It even has a motor in it. If you try to scale it up, oh my god, I can make a car with those same components. There is some truth to that.”
You can watch the whole interview here:
September 2015: Apple, according to The Guardian, had a meeting with California autonomous driving officials in August 2015. This is thought to have followed an enquiry into acquiring a disused military base with lots of roads for autonomous car testing. Apple has also hired an engineering program manager - something that happens when a project is ready to leave the lab.
Apple has also reportedly spent more than a year investigating whether an Apple Car project is even feasible. The company must think it's worth exploring some more, because according to The Wall Street Journal, project leaders are now tripling Apple Car's 600-person team. Apple is ramping up efforts to build an electric car and has even set a target ship date for 2019.
This report conflicts with previous ones that claimed Apple wanted to start producing its electric vehicle by 2020. Just remember that a ship date might not mean you'll be able to buy it in a mere three years; it could mean engineers have only signed off on key features. Also, The Wall Street Journal further revealed the first Apple Car will not be fully autonomous.
Apple has included the functionality in long-term plans, though. Keep in mind that when asked by Stephen Colbert recently about whether an Apple Car was even in the works, Tim Cook, Apple's CEO, would only admit: "We look at a number of things along the way, and we decide to really put our energies on a few of those."
Apple Car: Is this really happening?
It looks that way.
An unnamed Apple employee told Business Insider that Apple is working on something that will "give Tesla a run for its money." It's a vehicle development-related project - and Tesla employees are allegedly "jumping ship" to now work at Apple. Some critics are weary about the news though, noting Apple prefers to work on just a few things at a time.
Tim Cook, Apple's CEO, even admitted as much last January during a conference call: "We have zero issue coming up with things we want to do...We must focus on the very few that deserve all our energy." If Apple isn't going all out and developing an Apple Car, a colloquial name for what the company might call its rumoured vehicle, it might just improving CarPlay.
CarPlay launched just last year and is still very much in the early stages. It brings an iOS-style interface to in-car infotainment systems and is meant to be built directly into many cars. It might also expand one day to offer Tesla-like features. With the Tesla iPhone app, for instance, you can turn on heating, as well as lock and unlock doors, flash the lights, and more.
Apple Car: Has Apple poached Tesla employees?
Apple and Tesla are trying to recruit top-level employees from each other, according to Bloomberg Business, and Tesla is winning the battle by reportedly nabbing at least 150 former Apple employees.
Tesla as of mid-2015 had about 6,000 employees, and former Apple employees are filling up several different departments at the carmaker, including engineering and law. They had no problem switching companies, it seems, because Tesla's CEO, Elon Musk, reminds them of Jobs. He pays attention to detail, they purpotedly claimed, and they believe he's a strong leader.
Musk has confirmed that Apple is trying to poach Tesla employees, too, though the reasons why aren't clear. Apple is offering $250,000 bonuses and 60 per cent salary increases, but it has only managed to recruit a "few people" so far.
More recently, Musk elaborated on its poaching war with Apple, claiming Apple has only hired engineers that Tesla fired: “We always jokingly call Apple the ‘Tesla Graveyard.’ If you don’t make it at Tesla, you go work at Apple.”
Apple Car: Has Apple poached other EV experts?
Electric motorcycle startup Mission Motors ceased operations in October 2015, and it claimed the main reason it had to stop business was due to Apple grabbing up its key talent, according to Reuters. Apple poached six engineers from the San Francisco-based startup but never attempted to acquire Mission Motors outright.
"Mission had a great group of engineers, specifically electric drive expertise," [former CEO Derek] Kaufman said. "Apple knew that - they wanted it, and they went and got it."
The engineers specialised in electric drive systems and battery algorithms for charging and cooling. Mission Motors began in 2007, with the purpose of making premium electric motorcycles. Although it launched a prototype in 2013, it never released a version for sale to consumers and didn't have an adequate business model.
Apple Car: Has Apple recruited any auto experts?
Apple in recent months has recruited automotive technology and vehicle design experts - including vehicle dynamics engineers - to work at its new "top-secret research lab", according to The Financial Times.
Apple designers working under Jonathan Ive, Apple's design chief, have also met with automotive executives and creators, and at times, has tried to poach them. Keep in mind Apple hired former Mercedes-Benz R&D President and CEO Johann Jungwirth last year - and he is now listed as Director of Mac Systems Engineering at Apple.
Jungwirth has a history of working on connected cars and autonomous driving.
More recently, The Wall Street Journal claimed Apple hired Doug Betts. He previously served as the Senior Vice President of the Chrysler Group, where he was the global head of operations leading product service and quality.
His LinkedIn page indicates he started working at Apple in July 2015. Before working at Chrysler, Betts worked at Nissan, Toyota, and Michelin.
Apple Car: What is Apple's new secret research lab for?
It's an automative-focused research lab.
The Financial Times has claimed a team of Apple employees are researching automotive products in a new research lab at a top-secret location near Apple's headquarters in Cupertino. The team is being led by experienced managers from Apple's iPhone unit. The lab also only sprang up last year, right after the new iPhone 6 and Apple Watch unveiled.
Apple's new team, which includes "dozens" of Apple employees, might be using the lab to develop an advanced software platform based on CarPlay, though it could also be in working on the early stages of a car that may rival Tesla.
Apple Car: Is Apple definitely making an electric car?
The Wall Street Journal has weighed in on all the speculation, specifically adding that Apple has "several hundred employees" working on an Apple-branded electric vehicle that is currently codenamed Titan. An initial design of the vehicle even looks like a minivan, though Apple might eventually kill the car altogether.
Technologies being used in Titan, including advanced batteries and in-car electronics, would then go toward other Apple products like the iPhone and iPad. It's not unheard of for Apple to investigate technologies and potential products that it never plans to retail. In addition, an electric vehicle would still take several years to complete and pass certifications.
That said, the report noted Apple is serious about its car project, as evident by the size of its project team, and it has even flown executives to meet with contract manufacturers for high-end cars like the Magna Steyr. Cook apparently first approved the car project almost a year ago and told Vice President Steve Zadesky to lead the project's team.
Zadesky used to work at Ford and once helped lead the teams that created the iPod and iPhone. He is now assembling a 1,000-person-or-more team to work on Apple Car and is reportedly poaching employees from different area of the company. The team is working at a private location a few miles from Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino.
The team's research currently includes different types of robotics, metals, and materials, all of which are consistent with automobile manufacturing.
Apple Car: Or is Apple just making electric batteries?
In another report from Reuters, it's been revealed that electric-car battery maker A123 Systems is suing Apple for aggressively poaching its top engineers since June 2014. These engineers are apparently helping Apple build out a large-scale battery division, fueling rumours that Apple is developing an electric car car.
The poached engineers were apparently tasked with leading some of A123's most critical projects, but now, according to court filings, they're helping Apple to compete in the very same field as A123. The battery company, which is now in bankruptcy, said it specialised in bigger, electric batteries for larger machines like cars.
While Apple is likely building its own battery division, we're still taking all the car production rumours with a pinch of salt. After all, Apple uses batteries in most of its major products and mobile devices, so it's fair to assume an in-house battery division could be in the making to improve Apple's products.
Apple Car: Is Apple working with any carmakers?
Reuters has claimed that CEO Tim Cook visited BMW's headquarters last year, while other executives toured the company's Leipzig plant. Apple reportedly showed interest in BMW's i3 electric car and the manufacturing process for the vehicle's carbon fiber body.
Manger Magazine recently also reported that Apple met with BMW, claiming Apple is looking at the i3 for the basis of its own electric car. It's not yet clear if Apple will work with BMW, though.
Apple Car: Is Apple developing self-driving technology?
A mysterious van with an apparatus on its roof appeared earlier this year in Concord, California, and according to CBS affiliate KPIX 5, Apple was leasing the car. San Francisco-based blog Claycord promptly published photos of the Dodge Caravan, and it noted a similar-looking, self-driving Dodge Caravan was also spotted last autumn (see video).
Reports have claimed Apple's van is most likely involved in some sort of mapping project, as the apparatus on top of the vehicle looks like camera equipment found on top of typical mapping cars. Apple has been planning to improve its Maps app, so it's possible that the company is preparing to launch a feature similar to Google Street View.
Technology analyst Rob Enderle told KPIX 5 that the van's apparatus had about 12 cameras on all four corners of the vehicle and that they were angled downward. Apple Insider claimed Google's Street View cars use a similar setup, with 15 cameras for stitching together images. It therefore appears as though Apple's van is indeed a mapping car.
That said, due to the coincidences with the self-driving Dodge Caravan from last autumn, other reports have wondered if Apple is developing its own self-driving technology rather than a Street View-like feature.
More recently, The Wall Street Journal claimed Apple hired Paul Furgale, the deputy director of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology's Autonomous Systems Lab. Apple is seeking even more experts with robotics and machine experience as well, with Furgale supposedly recruiting both students and researchers.
Apple Car: Has Apple begun testing its car yet?
Apple is already looking for locations to test a self-driving car, according to The Guardian, which said it learned this information through a public records act request. Apple engineers in May reportedly met with representatives of a 5,000-acre former naval base in San Francisco called GoMentum Station.
Contra Costa Transportation Authority owns GoMentum and often lets it be used to test connected and autonomous vehicles, because it's equipped with highway overpasses, roads, tunnels, and train crossings.
In one of the emails obtained through the request, an Apple engineer asked GoMentum for "an understanding of timing and availability for the space, and how we would need to coordinate around other parties who would be using [it]." Apple also asked for a layout/photos of the grounds.
Keep in mind companies like Acura, Mercedes-Benz, and Honda also test their own self-driving cars at GoMentum.
Apple Car: What do industry experts think?
Yes. Bryan Chaffin, co-founder of The Mac Observer, has claimed he is "certain" Apple is working on a car, especially after talking to his sources. He claimed an Apple Car is definitely being created and will "give Tesla a run for its money".
Chaffin also said: "I should add that when I asked one of my sources flat out to put a percentage chance on Apple working on an actual car - rather than some kind of car-related technology - I was told, '80 percent.' When coupled with everything I’ve learned since, I’m personally closer to 100 percent."
Apple blogger John Gruber was initially skeptical, but now he has said: "I know a lot of people at Apple, at all levels of the company, who love watches. I also know many who love cars," and then he provided a link to Jonathan Ive's many cars. Gruber also pointed out that only a small market share of the car industry means huge profits.
Apple Car: Is Jony Ive pushing Apple to design a car?
We can only hope.
According to Cult of Mac, Apple's Industrial Design studio houses a bunch of talented automobile designers. It's own Jony Ive, for instance, has long been obsessed by cars and owns quite a few himself. He even reportedly wanted to be a car designer as a teenager and considered going to a UK design school that specialised in automotives.
Apart from Ive, Apple employs several designers who've made concept cars, and looking at those key members of Apple's design team might reveal what Apple is cooking up: Marc Newson once created a Ford O21C concept car, Julian Hönig made an Audi RSQ concept car, etc.
Apple Car: When can we expect it to be ready?
Within the next five years. Bloomberg has claimed that Apple wants to start producing an electric vehicle by 2020, while The Wall Street Journal said Apple has a target ship date set for 2019.
Both Tesla Motors and General Motors are also hoping to release new electric vehicles by 2017, which are expected to cost less than $40,000 but can go more than 200 miles on a single charge, so Apple's electric car would basically rival those offerings.