Steve Jobs is dead. The iPod is over a decade old. The iPhone is perhaps one of the best designed and most aspirational phones around, and that’s that. And the iPad is yet to revolutionize publishing. Then there’s the 178 billion dollar cash pile sitting tight in the bank, and that’s many times more than what Volkswagen, Toyota and General Motors together have in their reserves. Google wants to get into cars. Can Apple be far behind? Well, the Cupertino headquartered tech giant has just rolled out a Minivan that is supposedly running on autonomous technology and whose design could certainly make Mr. Jobs turn in his grave. Enter, Project Titan.
As a means of entering new, hitherto unexplored markets, Apple is said to be mounting a skunkworks attack on the automotive industry. Like Tesla has shown, the fastest path to automotive relevance from a virtual nobody is going all-guns-blazing into a segment where the industry behemoths have relatively mild presence in – electric cars. In a similar fashion, Apple’s Project Titan could seek to do two things –
1. Build an electric car ground up and take on the auto industry biggies in their own backyards.
2. Go to the market with an ultra intuitive human machine interface, somewhat akin to one that Apple puts into its consumer electronic devices such as the iPod, iPhone and the iPad.
If Apple indeed chooses the road less taken – that is the human-machine and drive interface for cars – the tech giant could position itself as the provider of software/operating system to cars that are built by the current crop of global automakers. Think of it as the Android of smartphones. Cars powered thus will give Apple a playing ground that isn’t just limited to communication, but also transportation, a sector whose car segment alone sees 100 milli0n new vehicles hitting road globally each year. Amd Steve Jobs indeed wanted to challenge Detroit with an Apple iCar.
Autonomous cars are the next big thing. Why, the W222 S-Class, by Mercedes Benz’s own admission has everything it needs to function as an autonomous car, with the only things wanting being regulatory approvals. The future is moving in a direction where kids of a few generations beyond may never know what “driving” a car feels like, rather choosing to be driven. Excuse the pun. Software threatens to dominate hardware, and autonomous cars may well be the inflection point for such a transition to occur.
Apple getting into the dominant position, even if it’s only a coincidence that Fifty Shades of Grey is in a theater near you, sounds just apt, for a company that seeks to take on Google in a sector that is yet to be overrun by the current tech giants, the automotive industry. Readying up the software that will drive cars of the future, will give Apple a host of advantages.
1. It will allow the company to be fuel agnostic, in a time where nobody really knows which way the automotive world is swinging. Just as electric cars and hybrids began making their cases, global crude slipped to historic lows. And hydrogen fuel cell powered cars threaten to steal the thunder of electric vehicles. Amid all this, choosing to handle software that works with almost every car, never mind the fuel type, will allow the company to have customized solutions that fit everything that comes out of a car factory.
2. Manufacturing is a scourge that Apple would rather prefer leaving to the well-oiled set ups of the current crop of automakers. Remember, your iPhone back still reads – Designed in California, Made in China.
3. The automotive sector is very highly regulated, and with autonomous cars on the cusp of entering production, these regulations are bound to get tighter and tighter and human decision making will give way to the cold, calculated ways of machine thinking. With Apple handling only the software, however dominant this part will become, the company will still have partners in the form of the auto giants, for whom new regulations are yet another day on the job.
Via TheWallStreetJournal [Subscription Required]