This one is barely even a rumor anymore.
The Wall Street Journal reported today that Apple is planning to build an electric car by 2019. They cited several unnamed sources, stating that Apple has also been on a hiring spree and will triple the current number of employees working on the project (code-named Titan) that already stands at 600. The report mentions a meeting between Apple reps and government officials in California about the possibility of selling a fully electric car.
As Engadget pointed out, one of the surprises with the WSJ report is that the car won't be autonomous (that is–it won't drive on its own) but will work more like your iPhone in that you will charge it up at night and use it all day. That's an important distinction, especially since major automakers like Toyota have recently suggested they have no plans to build robotic cars and want to keep the driver firmly in control but augment driving with tech enhancements that keep you safe, such as lane departure warnings.
I wrote about autonomous cars a few months ago, and many companies–including Cruise Automation, Google, Ford, and GM–are still working on concepts. Yet, it makes sense that Apple would focus on making a car that uses an electric motor first, then figure out how to make it drive on its own or at least drive in a safer way. The big dream of autonomous driving is the same as ever: To reduce the number of accidents on the highway. The big dream of electric cars is also the same as ever: To reduce the number of harmful emissions from gas-powered cars and maybe save the planet.
My view? This could be much cooler than any of us really grasp. It could be a combination of both but also something that is a groundbreaking innovation ala the iPhone.
The Apple car would solve the biggest problem of all, the one that is responsible for a rising number of accidents and could become an epidemic. I'm talking of course about people trying to be productive when they drive, also known as texting while you drive. I’ve been noticing this problem is getting a lot worse lately.
Apple is likely working on a car that will address this problem. You will be able to talk to the car, dictate emails, respond to texts, chat with colleagues, and order a pizza that is delivered by the time you get home. The car will be so useful and intuitive, you won't even need it to drive on its own. You'll be driving a car that identifies you when you climb in and understands your preferred settings. It will likely have a BMW badge somewhere, but the design will be all Apple.
And here's the best part. The interface will work exactly like a curved, glossy, highly intuitive iPad. If you don't want to adjust the heat or AC by voice, you can just swipe on the screen. Your music will load up automatically from the cloud. Your contacts will pop up as well. In fact, the car will be an extension of your iPhone and iPad in a hundred different ways and then some.
This moving office will be particularly appealing to those in business. My prediction is that Apple will target commuters initially, those who want to work while they drive. Maybe that seems like a distraction; I see it as a replacement for what people are doing anyway. The Apple electric car could usher in an age of more productivity on the road. I can't wait.