If all the rumours are true – and there’s plenty of evidence and innuendo to suggest that the i-smoke must eventually lead to fire – the world’s second-largest tech company will be hoping to do to transport what it has done to the music and phone industries.
It’s a big call. But while Apple doesn’t always nail the bullseye first time around, it usually gets close to the target once lessons are learnt. The iPod, iPhone and iPad are perfect examples.
Apple is not alone in wanting to tackle cars. Google is also hoping to shape transport, predominantly by sidestepping the driver with robots, though it remains to be seen if they’ll do what they’re told. The Google car’s much-publicised crash earlier this year was evidence of the challenges ahead, especially when it comes to dealing with human drivers who won’t always behave like a computer. As a result, the company said it would make “refinements to our software”, something we suspect will be happening for decades to come.
Apple and Google have shaped our tech worlds. But each has made plenty of mistakes, and in Google’s case the list of failures is longer than the very short list of (admittedly very big) successes. Google Glass anyone?
Cars are also a lot more complex and demanding than a search engine, and they have to last much longer than an iPhone or MacBook. They need to withstand a crash, and protect you in the process, and be easy to repair afterwards. They need to be able to cope with wind, rain, snow and sun, and they need to work within a second of start-up across a 100-degree temperature range.
They also need to work faultlessly the minute you drive them out of the car dealership. This alone will require the tech giants to develop their four-wheeled products in a very different way to their usual i-fare.
As with its rivals, Apple often rushes things to market then works on fixing the issues once they’re in consumer hands. Remember the teething problems with Apple Maps? You can’t do that with cars. You can’t use consumers to help develop air-con or entertainment systems, let alone the braking or crash-avoidance systems.
History suggests, though, that Apple won’t have issues finding buyers. There are millions of fanbois around the world eager to buy anything with the Apple logo. But there’s a big difference between having a new phone or watch or iPad go on the fritz for a minute or two, and a ‘technical glitch’ at 100km/h on a freeway.
From the outside, Apple appears to be playing it smart when it comes to developing its top-secret car. The California-based company has been hiring experts from across the automotive industry – including some engineers from Holden – to at least shortcut some of the lessons learnt from more than 100 years of car-making. And, as with everyone at Apple, secrecy appears paramount to their future employment; it’s understood part of the deal is not to talk to anyone outside the company about what they’re up to.