Apple Car launch report: I’ll believe it when I drive it


Yesterday saw the latest report of a planned Apple Car launch, this time saying it will happen in 2024.

This is, of course, just the latest instalment in the long-running Apple Car saga which dates at least as far back as 2007. Phil Schiller said that Apple execs discussed building a car even before the company released the first iPhone in 2007, and Tony Fadell recalls kicking the idea around with Steve Jobs in 2008.

The first tentative evidence of the company actively working on a car project came to light in 2015, when Apple began poaching Tesla engineers – though we noted at the time that this didn’t necessarily mean too much …

The following year, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said it was ‘an open secret’ that Apple was making an electric car. Subsequent evidence of Apple’s interest in the topic included hiring execs from a bunch of car companies, and persuasive reasons to believe that it had set up a shell company for an automotive project.

In the years since then, however, we’ve heard wildly conflicting reports. Apple was definitely working on making its own car, and it would be launched in 2020. Apple isn’t making a car, but is making self-driving tech to sell to automotive companies. Apple was making a car but had abandoned the idea. Apple is making a car, but its for an Uber-style car sharing service, not for sell to consumers. Apple isn’t interested in a car per se but is using the idea as a development tool for battery and AI technologies it can use in other products.

Yesterday’s Reuters report returned to the idea that Apple is making a car, intending to launch it in 2024.

Apple Inc is moving forward with self-driving car technology and is targeting 2024 to produce a passenger vehicle that could include its own breakthrough battery technology, people familiar with the matter told Reuters […]

Apple has progressed enough that it now aims to build a vehicle for consumers, two people familiar with the effort said, asking not to be named because Apple’s plans are not public. Apple’s goal of building a personal vehicle for the mass market contrasts with rivals such as Alphabet Inc’s Waymo, which has built robo-taxis to carry passengers for a driverless ride-hailing service.

But even that report included a glaring disclaimer.

There is still a chance Apple will decide to reduce the scope of its efforts to an autonomous driving system that would be integrated with a car made by a traditional automaker, rather than the iPhone maker selling an Apple-branded car, one of the people added.

I don’t believe anyone in the media currently knows Apple’s plans. Indeed, It remains entirely possible that not even Apple knows its plans – only that it is exploring the area and will make a decision later about if and how to turn them into a product.

What do we know for certain? Only that Apple is exploring the whole area of self-driving cars. By last year, the company had published a white paper entitled Our Approach to Automated Driving System Safety, and had a growing fleet of self-driving cars on the road. But does that amount to hard evidence that there’s an Apple Car on the way?

No.

It confirms that Apple is really interested in the technology, but it doesn’t tell us what – if anything – it plans to do with it. Tim Cook himself made the point that the company may end up exploring something without having a specific goal in mind, like making a production car.

We explore many different things, many different technologies. And at first we might not know what product it might wind up in. And then later we’ll see that that really cool technology enables maybe things that we’re doing today to take on something bigger, maybe something new.

Does it make sense to put that much work into something without aiming to build a car? Maybe. Apple is deeply interested in AI, and creating a self-driving car is pretty much the ultimate AI project out there right now.

Tesla has been working on it for years, and still hasn’t cracked it. CEO Elon Musk said in 2015 that the company expected to have ‘complete autonomy’ by the end of 2017. It’s still not here yet – and that’s because this stuff is harder than even the world’s greatest experts expected.

So working on a self-driving car obviously makes sense if you want to build a self-driving car – but it also makes perfect sense if you want to get really, really good at AI.

Note that I’m not saying that we won’t see an Apple Car go on sale. I’d love to see it happen. I’m just saying that I don’t believe any of the reports right now, and I’d want a great deal more evidence before I do.

What’s your view? Do you think the evidence is compelling, or is the jury still out? Please take our poll, and share your thoughts in the comments.

Concept image: CarWow

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