The Apple car in the news (again)

An Apple car has been in the works, at least in fits and spurts, since 2015. The big question for most people remains … WTF is Apple going to build a car? It’s not at all clear what value they add. To quote Hal Eddins, chief economist at Apple shareholder Capital Investment Counsel, “My initial reaction as a shareholder is, huh? Still don’t really see the appeal of the car business, but Apple may be eyeing another angle than what I’m seeing.” That about sums up everyone’s opinion.

A lot of the hype seems to be around battery technology, but see the note above about solid-state batteries. Apple is “good” at batteries, but it’s hard to see how that makes the car business make sense to them. But then I started thinking about this quotation from an unnamed Apple insider, on the battery team: “It’s next level,” the person said of Apple’s battery technology. “Like the first time you saw the iPhone.” Which got me thinking. That, of course, is BS — technologists like to think such things, but I guarantee you, no one is going to look at their new, fancy battery and think “this changes the world the way the iPhone did”. But, what if the whole thing is the iPhone?

That could be exciting — a complete reimagining of what a car is, in the way the iPhone was a complete reimagining of what a phone is. No steering wheel. 360º glass. Spinning chairs and a table in the center. The imagination can run wild if you think about Apple doing Apple with a car. If it’s not that, the only other thing I can imagine is important, but far less exciting: privacy. It looks like when we do get to self-driving cars, they’re going to be powered by Google — and there will certainly be a market for people who don’t want to give all that data to Google (remember when all of Google Map’s inside views got much better because of Pokemon Go!? You better believe any Waymo-powered car will come with a preposterous terms-of-service agreement and privacy policy). There’s a market there, but I don’t know if it’s big enough or valuable enough to justify Apple entering the car industry. Let’s hope it’s an iCar.

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Chris Richardson has strong opinions on just about everything. Just ask.