Is Apple getting into the car business? No, Apple isn’t building a car. But it makes perfect sense that Apple would be working on an in-dash system.
The car blog Jalopnik said this week that a Chinese head-hunting firm is apparently helping Apple hire someone expert in the manufacturing of car parts. The recruiter apparently placed the position in the automotive section of LinkedIn. The listing said:
“Apple(China) Looking for SQE/NPI with over 4 years Mechanical engineering background familiar with CNC/die casting/stamping/plastic injection, can use APQP/ PPAP/SPC to control product quality.”
PatentlyApple.com has reported over the years multiple patents held by Apple for in-car user interfaces.
The circumstantial evidence suggests that Apple is at least thinking about getting serious about the automotive dashboard business.
And getting into the car business just makes sense for Apple. Here’s why.
People Consume Content in Cars
As I’ve written on this blog before, Apple doesn’t see itself as a generic consumer electronics company, as most outside people see it.
Apple sees itself as a content experience company. High-end devices like iMacs are optimized for the creation of content. And mobile devices are optimized for the consumption of content.
Apple’s approach to everything is that it pursues opportunities to improve the content consumption experience wherever that experience is wanting for millions of users. They do it with integrated hardware, software and services working together to make the experience awesome instead of awful.
The music experience sucked, and Apple fixed it with iPod and iTunes.
The mobile phone content experience sucked, and Apple fixed it with iPhone and the App Store.
The video, eBook, web site experiences sucked, and Apple fixed it with iPad, iTunes the App Store and iCloud.
The TV and home movie experience still sucks, and Apple is working on fixing it with Apple TV and a future rumored TV set.
Guess what? Driving or riding in a car is a major and universal content consumption experience. Almost everyone in the “industrialized world” gets in a car every day. And almost everyone who gets into a car consumes content in that car.
And the experience sucks.
Most people still listen to crappy FM radio, and simply use their phones for content.
Most new cars come with jacks that let you plug your iPhone or other phone or music player into the sound system. Meh. Not ideal. Others connect via Bluetooth.
High-end cars, and even many mid-range cars, have GPS navigation built into the dash. But most people use the Maps app on their phone to get around. Taking eyes off the wheel while trying to read tiny text on the phone is dangerous.
Many high-end family cars, SUVs and minivans come with displays behind the front-seat headrests so parents can pacify kids with DVDs. The content available tends to be non-educational garbage. And swapping out the content is often done by the driver, which is dangerous.
Despite laws and warnings, nearly everyone talks on their phone inside cars. And some even text by actually looking at the screen and typing.
Apple already has 95% of the solution to all these content consumption, convenience and safety problems.
An iPad built into the dash would be simply awesome. iCloud could sync content with what people have already downloaded, purchased or created at home. This wouldn’t even require mobile broadband — the iPad would load itself with content using the home Wi-Fi network while the car is parked in the driveway. Of course, mobile broadband would also be a nice extra.
Siri control would enable drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road, even while getting turn-by-turn directions or navigating music or podcasts.
iPads in the back for the kids would enable parents to load those screens with educational content, and enable the kids themselves to control it so the parent driver doesn’t have to worry about it.
The integration of Apple into dashboards is already in the works at the pricey end of the spectrum.
Mercedes Benz will demonstrate later this week at the Geneva Motor Show an upgrade option called the Drive Kit Plus, which interoperates with the driver’s iPhone via Siri.
But what about the 99%? The Mercedes solution will leave literally hundreds of millions of people consuming content the old-and-busted way. Apple has good reasons to step in and offer the new hotness.
First of all, Apple would need to make installed iPads both safe, and integrated.
From a safety perspective, any installed iPad would need to be strongly embedded so it didn’t become loose in an accident. The sound system — both speakers and microphone — would have to be integrated into the car’s sound system — and Apple would want to control what those electronics are to maximize the experience.
iPads look bad in direct sunlight, so some work needs to be done there.
And the real home run would be for all the car’s details — gas gauge, speedometer, odometer, etc., to be displayed in an app, rather than with a Victorian-era dial or a separate electronic displays built into another part of the dash.
In order to maximize the experience, Apple would want to control how and where the iPad was installed. In order to do that, the company would need to hire outside expertise — say, by placing an ad in China for a mechanical engineer familiar with factory manufacturing.
They would work with car companies the same way they work with wireless carriers — our way or the highway. Apple would offer to do the design work, and integrate with a car’s electronics. But Apple would control the app ecosystem, and both how the in-dash system is designed and marketed to the public.
Apple is obviously a desirable premium brand, which would help auto makers sell a lot of cars. Some car companies, such as Ford, have done an enormous amount of work to build all this capability themselves, working with partners like Microsoft. Such features like voice control, and integrated navigation and music playing help Ford succeed in the car market.
Everyone else would be able to leapfrog Ford by signing a single contract with Apple.
Apple in cars is a no-brainer. It’s exactly in line with Apple’s mission, core competency and historic role as the transformer of content consumption.
I think they’re going to do it.
Picture courtesy of Stuart Hughes: https://plus.google.com/113117251731252114390/posts/hGdwYRf2hu6