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The Apple Car is the company’s road to the future

Jason Snell | June 22, 2016
For a product that doesn’t exist and may not come to market for many years, there’s still an awful lot of talk about the Apple Car.

For a product that doesn't exist and may not come to market for many years, there's still an awful lot of talk about the Apple Car. Just this week there have been reports about a new European home for Apple Car development and a large feature package from a major magazine trying to envision what the Apple Car will look like.

It's always fun to imagine future Apple products, so long as you remember that wild speculation is exactly that. But the Apple Car is worth considering as a way to understand some of the decisions Apple makes today and to envision what kind of company it may be tomorrow.

Why bother?

There was a time when Apple was a computer company. It made computers, and accessories for those computers, and that was it. Then came the iPod, and things started to change. With the iPhone and iPad, it became clear: Apple was not just a maker of computers. The company even changed its name, from Apple Computer to simply Apple.

But, by a certain definition, all the products Apple sells are still just computers. In fact, the iPod was arguably the least computery product Apple has made, given that it was a single-purpose device without support for third-party software. The iPad, iPhone, Apple TV, Apple Watch are absolutely computers, just in new forms.

carplay ios 9.3

But cars aren't computers, right? No, they aren't... but maybe they are, from a certain point of view. Given a broad enough horizon - thinking out 20 years, let's say - it's hard not to think that cars will be powered by rechargeable batteries and managed by complex software systems connected to the global internet. Or, as Apple's Jeff Williams said, "The car is the ultimate mobile device."

It's hard for incumbents in markets to change their ways. Surely all the world's car companies know that the future of the car is software and sophisticated sensors and electric motors. But they have to run their businesses today - and that makes it hard for them to focus too much on the future. New companies, especially ones with deep pockets, can do what traditional companies can't. So if you're Apple, you may look at the car of 2030 and realise that your technology expertise is just as vital as their automotive expertise, and you don't carry any of their baggage.

Let's not forget that, as iPhone sales slow, Apple is also a company that is looking for new areas of growth. It has tens of billions of dollars to spend on new initiatives, and is well-aware that the most dominant tech companies of one era become the doormats of the next. Apple knows better than most that the only way to keep on top is to keep reinventing yourself. Entering the automotive market seems weird, but Apple needs to keep finding new product categories to enter in hopes of finding growth.

 

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