Elgan on Tech

How the Apple Car will drive IT change

Don't think of the coming iCar as a car. It's a remote office with a supercomputer inside that will change the way you think about cars -- just as the iPhone changed how you use phones.

autonomous vehicle with virtual interface

Elgan on Tech

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Apple knows where cars are going.

A huge trove of patents, executive statements, leaks, sightings and informed predictions all point to a breathtaking future for the Apple automobile.

The problem is that large organizations aren't thinking in the same way.

It's time to shed our delusions, misconceptions and blind spots about the Apple car. Starting with the big one.

The Apple Car is not a car

We live our lives in four spaces:

  1. Home
  2. Work
  3. While in transit
  4. None of the above

Apple dominates spaces 1, 2 and 4 (the last one with its iPhone and Apple Watch).

Future cars will be self-driving, and therefore will exist for work, communication and content consumption. Apple intends to dominate that space as well. And that's why Apple is aggressively working on Project Titan, it's incredible car project.

Apple is the most valuable company in the world because it re-invented the music experience with the iPod, the phone with the iPhone, the tablet with the iPad.

These products -- and certainly not laptops and desktops -- won't allow Apple to continue growing. Nor will "services" (although financial services will help in the next five years).

No, in order to sustain growth, Apple needs to re-invent something that most people use daily. Something expensive. A car. And that's what they're working on.

Our instincts about cars are stuck in the past. We think about gasoline and pistons and steering wheels and trunk space -- a business completely unrelated to Apple's business.

The car of the future is totally within Apple's wheelhouse. It's an advance electronics device that competes on the quality of its digital technology: artificial intelligence (Cook described cars as the "the mother of all A.I. projects") networking, spacial sensors, cameras, data processing, user interfaces (screen, gesture and voice), augmented reality, user-selected apps, digital security systems, hybrid cloud infrastructure and other technologies.

[ Related: How the iPhone 11’s U1 chip will change everything ]

From a data processing and security perspective, every future car in the fleet will be the IT equivalent of a large satellite office.

The car of the future is a next-generation PC, tablet, smartphone and augmented reality experience all in one highly mobile, wireless package.

Enterprises and other large organizations will own and operate fleets of future cars for all kinds of purposes. And the IT impact will be astronomical.

Why Apple is way ahead on cars

Even industry experts dismiss the idea that Apple's Titan project as being way behind. And when it comes to the self-driving part, that's true. But when it comes to envisioning the totality of the car and the experience of its occupants, Apple is light years ahead of everybody.

Titan disbelievers often cling to the baseless believe that Apple is working on the software only. In fact, they’re working on the navigation part, the interior part, the functional car body part — the whole car.

Apple hired a hardware engineer from Tesla named Doug Field to head the Titan project. Field's job at Tesla was to oversee Model 3 production before being assigned by Elon Musk to head vehicle design.

A German publication called Manager Magazin last year reported that their sources claim Apple is working on a sort of van, rather than a sedan type car. That's consistent with envision the future car as an office or living room on wheels.

The company also owns patents for using sensors and computers to boost stability while driving based on sensor-based analysis of the road surface, as well as a suite of technologies (including haptics) for generating a smoother rise. They're also looking to innovate through new technology for shock-absorbing bumpers.

[ Related: Why Apple beats Google in the smartphone 'radar wars' ]

Apple is even working on a wireless charging system for cars, according to patents like this one.

Other patents point to Apple's intention to create a car with high structural integrity, low weight and aesthetic minimalism.

One patent for how Apple Car doors could work and a patent for how the base of a car could be constructed reveal an extreme level of detail about the realities of car aesthetics, impact during accidents and manufacturing.

Apple would also replace side mirrors with cameras that project side-view information on the windscreen, which both eliminates unsightly mirrors, and also eliminates blind spots.

Apple has other patents that could re-invent sunroofs, seatbelts and other components.

One could assume that Apple would launch an all-electric car, like Tesla cars. But in fact Apple has patents that keep the door open for gas/electric hybrid cars.

One of Apple's specialties is user interfaces. Apple has wild patents for lighting the interior of a car with fiber optics on the other side of transparent and translucent polymers, as well as being embedded in windows, the windshield, the head and tail lights and other elements. These would create customized moods, and also convey information.

The company has also done extensive work on using in-the-air gestures and Siri for controlling a car.

Apple has even developed patents for a new kind of car seat.

Cook himself told Bloomberg in a public interview that Apple is “focusing” on self-driving autonomous systems.

An Apple research paper outlines a system called VoxelNet, which uses lidar combined with cameras for high-performance detection people and objects.

Apple's lidar rigs have been spotted on top of Lexus SUVs driving around Silicon Valley.

Last summer Apple acquired self-driving car startup Drive.ai.

Other reports indicate that Apple is looking to innovate in lowering the cost of mass-producing lidar equipment.

Yet, other Apple patents point to human driven cars. One patent, for example, envisions remote-control systems taking over when the human driver has to be driven to the hospital. In other words, if a human driver can't drive, another human in some remote control room somewhere takes control of the car.

Cook also said explicitly that Apple is working on the cars themselves, and also an Uber-like ride-sharing service.

When cars are self-driving, there will be nothing to do except for consume content, work and communicate. It's a combination of an office and play room.

One Apple patent reveals how advanced Apple's thinking on this has been. The company developed a method for designing a car to minimize nausea while using virtual reality headsets.

Will Apple really build and make cars?

In the summer of 2018, Forbes Transportation writer David Silver correctly pointed out that an Apple car would "require an automotive Foxconn."

For years, Apple worked with what at the time was the world’s only automobile contract manufacturer, Austria’s Magna Steyr, which is a kind of Foxconn, but for cars. It's not clear if Apple is still working with Magna Steyr.

But the "automotive Foxconn" might be Foxconn itself. We learned last month that Fiat Chrysler is talking with Foxconn about forming a joint venture to build electric vehicles for the China market.

Regardless of whether the deal happens or not, iPhone manufacturer Foxconn says it wants 10 percent of their future revenue to come from the contract manufacturing of cars.

Apple is way ahead on its vision for the car of the future. It's coming, probably as early as 2026.

It's time to start thinking about the Apple Car, and cars of the future generally, as IT challenge that it will become. Tomorrow’s cars are not just about transportation, shipping and delivery. They're about terabytes of data generated daily that will have to be managed, provisioned, processed and secured.

We're at the point with cars that we were with phones in 2005. Nobody knew how they'd be used. Nobody thought Apple would define the space. Nobody thought they'd big a big deal for IT.

It's time to come to terms with the fact that, for IT, cars will be the new smartphones.