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Why Tim Cook Would Build an Apple Car

By Chris Maxcer
Feb 13, 2015 11:43 AM PT
tim cook apple car

The wildest tech rumor this week comes from little substance, but somehow manages to ignite the imagination: According to Business Insider, an unsolicited Apple employee emailed to say that a group at Apple is working on a project that would "give Tesla a run for its money."

For this to be true, it means that an Apple employee either a) broke Apple's strict rules for secrecy in some obvious way that makes Business Insider believe the email actually came from an Apple employee, or b) that it was some sort of vague and intentional leak from Apple, sent straight to Business Insider.

Both scenarios, while not impossible, strain credibility. First, it's hard to imagine that an Apple employee would risk losing their job for such little apparent gain, especially if they're working on a project that is apparently so cool. And second, it seems like an intentional leak might contain something a little less insipid than claiming an Apple project will "give Tesla a run for its money."

Granted, it appears as if the email was intended to support the idea that Tesla employees are jumping ship to work at Apple (while Tesla has hired away 150 Apple employees). In which case, the very act of alluding to a secret project and name-dropping Tesla seems like one of the more stupid things a presumably "very smart" Apple employee would bother to do.

The Apple Car Rumor Has Legs

Still, the initial rumor became a catalyst for The Mac Oserver's Bryan Chaffin, who asked around to some unnamed sources who might be in positions to have a good idea whether Apple is working on a car. Plus, he found that Apple appears to have attracted some Tesla employees that have car-oriented experience, which seems obvious if you're poaching a new employee from a car company.

But...now he's a believer. According to Chaffin, the chances that Apple is working on an actual car is close to 100 percent.

To some people who know Apple only as the digital tech gadget maker, this seems like a project wildly removed from Apple's core competence. I don't think it is. I think Apple believes it can build most anything -- and the company certainly has the cash to fund most any project.

Imagine Apple CEO Tim Cook. The guy is obviously freakishly smart, able to guide Apple to be able to produce highly complex devices with massive supply chains -- under intense scrutiny -- that can nonetheless be manufactured in the tens of millions and delivered globally on the same day.

The sheer scale of Apple's products, coupled with their complexity and the worldwide markets they go into, must surely result in some measure of confidence that a company with a US$700 billion market cap could produce its own car.

So, could Apple build its own car? Without a doubt.

The question is, would Apple want to?

Back in 2013, Apple clarified how it decides to do things -- which products and features it decides to deliver. Apple still has a web page that shows off a video and notes that there are a thousand "no's" for every "yes."

Apple says that it designs for people. That it wants to create products that make life better.

Cook has been saying for years -- in various ways -- that Apple chooses to build products that delight and impact people's lives. The marketing of Apple's products supports that, too, particularly with the iPad, but also with new products.

In fact, at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference this week, Cook just said that there has not yet been a single smartwatch that has changed the way people live their lives. He then noted that, at Apple, that's their objective: "We want to change the way you live your life."

What Better Impact Than a Better Car?

I think Apple limits its thinking by what's most important, not by what's quickly possible. And clearly, Cook is looking for products that make life simpler, easier, and more delightful.

When you pair that straightforward goal with Cook's apparent passion for a more environmentally friendly Apple -- case in point, the recent $850 million investment in solar energy to power Apple's operations in California -- the notion of building an electric car starts to fit into Cook's Apple.

Not only do cars have massive room for "improvement" around design, simplicity, and efficiency, there is also great room for user-based improvements. In 10 years, will Apple CarPlay on the dash of a new Ford or GM be enough for Cook? A natural extension of Apple's continuity among products could go to a place where people and families still spend an insane amount of time -- inside of a car. Why stop at work, stop at the home, or stop at your pocket or wrist? If better communication is important to the world, how important is better transportation?

A car represents a starting point for a very worthy challenge for Apple. Could Apple make cars safer? More energy-efficient? Quite possibly.

Better yet, would Apple's maestro of industrial design, Jony Ive, want to design a car? Come on, who wouldn't want to design a car? I would jump at the chance to build something so iconic, so culturally important.

If Cook has any interest in making Steve Jobs' dent in the universe any bigger -- if not putting a giant bandage over the fossil-fuel guzzling world we live in that results in political upheaval over the control of non-renewable natural resources -- why not start with a better car?

At the very least, it's easy to imagine Cook showing a willingness to fund the research and development of such an effort.

So is the rumor true or not?

I hope it's true.


TechNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at WickedCoolBite.com. You can also connect with him on Google+.


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