What we can tell you about Apple's secret electric car
With the recent announcement of the Tesla Model 3, heralded as the arrival of an electric car for the masses, we thought it was time we turned our attention to that other big electric car story: Apple's much-rumoured electric car project.
A little while ago, I wrote a piece outlining the history of the electric car – and where it could lead in the future. But even since this piece went up, Tesla has changed the landscape yet again with the Model 3.
This forthcoming motor will go up to 215 miles on a signal charge, do 0–60 mph in less than six seconds – and even has an impressive 'autopilot' feature, allowing the car to maintain speed and distance to other cars on the road and even park itself on command! But even more impressive is the price: the Model 3 is expected to land with a very reasonable price tag of $35,000.
In this rapidly changing market, the big question everyone is asking is “Can Apple do for the car what they did for the phone?” There's a lot of speculation around at the moment – but it's certain that if they're to compete with Tesla, they're going to have to do something really special.
The story so far
If Apple really is designing an 'iCar', then they’re certainly earning their reputation as one of the most secretive companies in the world. Information that isn’t hearsay is impossible to find – although naturally, the internet is rife with rumours, quotes from several key figures and patents that all seem to point to the fact that an iCar is coming.
In February 2015, the Wall Street Journal published an article stating that the iCar was, in fact, real – and is codenamed 'Titan'. The article claimed there were “several hundred” employees working on the project at Apple.
Interestingly, it is also reported that several of Tesla’s engineers have been hired by Apple – a move dismissed by Elon Musk, Chief Executive at Tesla Motors. In an interview with German newspaper Handelsblatt, he was quoted as saying “They have hired the people we’ve fired.” He jokingly calling Apple the “Tesla Graveyard,” and said “if you don’t make it at Tesla, you go work at Apple.”
Apple also bought up a few automobile-themed web domains in December 2015: addresses such as 'apple.car' and 'apple.auto' were snapped up in a flurry of purchases. While none of these domains appear to be active, it certainly turned heads. But in all honesty, I think this is probably linked to the tech giant’s CarPlay technology. It could also be to defend against “cybersquatting” –the act of people buying up potentially valuable domains and holding them to ransom.
Some high-flying figures in the automotive world are also dropping hints at the prospect of an Apple car on the horizon – none more highly regarded in the electric vehicle market than Elon Musk. In a recent interview with the BBC, he claimed that it's “an open secret” Apple are making a car. He doesn’t seem worried by the idea, though, as he went on to say "Tesla will still aspire to make the most compelling electric vehicles, and that would be our goal, while at the same time helping other companies to make electric cars as well."
Even Apple’s own Tim Cook is not immune from dropping the odd teaser. Speaking at the Wall Street Journal's recent WSJDLive conference, the Apple CEO was quoted saying the automotive industry is on the brink of a “massive change” – then refused to answer questions about Apple’s involvement in it. The only comments he would make pointed to the company’s efforts to bring the iPhone experience to cars through their in-dash CarPlay system.
The Faraday connection
We all know Apple can be a secretive and mysterious company when it comes to future products. But one slightly conspiratorial theory pushes this to an extreme: Could Apple really be behind another mysterious company, Faraday Future?
If some recent speculation is to be believed, Apple are running the electric vehicle start-up – recently seen causing a splash at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show – as a front for their electric car projects.
Proponents of this theory point to the fact that Faraday Future recently received a massive $1 billion in funding. For a new company with little or no track record, this kind of investment is unheard of. The New York Times reached out for comments on the source of this funding and were told that the company are “keeping their partners confidential”.
Further fuel for this particular fire is Apple’s purchase of a huge swathe of land in California – roughly twice the size of its Cupertino 'Spaceship' campus – at the same time as Faraday Future announced it was constructing a state-of-the-art £1 billion manufacturing facility somewhere in California, Georgia, Louisiana or Nevada.
Coupled with the fact that no one knows who the CEO of Faraday Future is, it’s not hard to see how all this would get the tech conspiracy theorists salivating!
What will it be like?
If – or if you believe the rumours above, when – Apple unleashes their iCar on the world, what will it look like? What will it be made of? Will it need connecting to iTunes in case of a breakdown? This is all purely speculative, of course – but we have a few ideas.
There's one thing I'm almost certain of: it will be electric and capable of operating driverless. With the progress Google is making in this field, alongside with Tesla and their Autopilot system, Apple's car simply must have these features.
Apple love to be at the forefront of consumer tech in their other devices – and there's no reason to think an iCar will be anything other than bleeding-edge in terms of automotive tech.
I’d also imagine that iOS integration will be everywhere. TouchID door locks anyone? After all, Tesla already has a car that can be summoned with the touch of a button. Just think, you could have an app on your iPhone that will start the car, set the climate control, warm the seats and defrost the glass with the touch of a button! Who knows, it may even pull out of your parking space and pop the door open as you approach.
Another feature I’d love to see would be personalisation of driver comforts based on who's driving. Unlock and start the car with your phone, and your seat position, climate control settings and radio/music preferences could all be loaded – with a completely different set of preferences for your partner. BMW's iDrive system has shown that drivers love this kind of customisation – and if it could be built into an easy-to-use app, with Apple's trademark skill at creating user experiences, it could be even better.
With regards to looks and materials, you only have to look at the other Apple products to get an idea. Everyone focuses on the iOS devices when it comes to design – and don’t get me wrong, they are beautiful devices, and very well made. But it's their computers that really show off their attention to detail and high-end manufacturing processes. The chassis of the MacBook Pro, for example, is milled from a single block of aluminium – creating an almost seamless and very luxurious finish.
I’m not suggesting that Apple should mill whole cars from single blocks of metal – but it shows how far they'll go to perfect their products. The MacBook Pro is an immensely powerful machine – but through innovations in design, it's just 25cm tall and around 17cm in diameter. Imagine what they could do for a car!
When could you be driving it?
Despite the uncertainty surrounding the project, it turns out the answer to the above question could be ‘quite soon’. Indeed, analysts believe a big battle is brewing between Tesla and Apple.
According to industry insiders, Apple's car will be released in 2020 – which should put it right in the crosshairs of the Tesla Model 3. Tesla’s 'electric car for the masses' should be in full production by that time – setting the scene for a fantastic showdown, if the rumours turn out to be true.
As for pricing, the closest thing we have to base a guess on is – yet again – Tesla. Their Model 3 car can be yours for an estimated base price of £29,400. This is remarkably affordable by their own standards: the top-of-the-line Model S P90D is a much more eye-watering £92,400.
We just don’t know where the Apple car will fit alongside those prices – but I suspect the so-called 'Apple Tax' will be a factor, meaning that it might cost a little (or a lot) more. No doubt the perceived coolness of an Apple car will help sales, no matter what the price.
Of course, it's important to remember that none of this is confirmed, or even likely! It's entirely based on speculation and anecdotal evidence from other industry sources.
Apple could indeed be about to revolutionise the automotive industry – but on the other hand the iCar may never see the light of day. Only time will tell – but you can rest assured that whatever happens, Geek Squad will be there to tell you all about it!
That's all we know about Apple's secretive electric car project – but if you're keen to add to the speculation, why not get involved in the comments below? We'd love to know what you hope to see!