Once a fledgling computer company having a tumultuous relationship with Microsoft, Apple has grown to boast the largest market capitalisation of all existing publicly listed companies. At the forefront of Apple’s appeal is their fierce devotion to innovate, as can be seen from their groundbreaking range of iPhones, iPads and Macintosh computers. Though some design flaws have been pointed out have pointed out (AirPods come to mind) and the legitimacy of their originality has been questioned (with the iPad having come after Microsoft had already introduced tablet computers), no one can take away from the fact that Apple strives to progressively move forward.
Hence, it is no surprise then that Apple is looking to branch out from just being another personal electronics company. Joining the rank of fellow futurists such as SpaceEx and Virgin, Apple decided to devote significant man-power to bringing into existence an idea previously existing only in science fiction. Only, instead of looking upwards, Apple decided to look Earth-wards. Enter Project Titan. Starting off as highly secret, this project diverted about 1000 Apple employees to work on the transportation of tomorrow. Self-driving cars.
That’s right, an autopilot for cars. At first, emphasis was put on creating an actual prototype that would be a roof of concept for autonomous driving. However, due to internal strife, leadership issues and other problems, the car project was shelved indefinitely for the foreseeable future. After a brief period of staff lay-offs and a restructure of focus, Apple, with the supposed leadership of Bob Mansfield, is now focusing on creating an autonomous driving system that could be fit into cars of existing automotive companies.
The former Senior Vice President of Technologies for Apple now focuses on unnamed future projects, with products such as the Apple Watch and smart televisions being claimed to have been birthed under his supervision. It seems that the Apple Car system would naturally fit his expertise.
Apple Chief Executive, Tim Cook, had finally shed some light on the project just this week, confirming the shift in focus to autonomous systems rather than actual cars with the built-in systems. According to him, autonomous vehicles represent ‘the mother of all’ artificial intelligence projects. It is unsurprising that the world’s largest technology company wants to lead the charge into the Fourth Industrial Revolution by claiming its stake in one of its focus areas, A.I., but it’s no less exciting.
Elaborating on the project, Tim Cook adds that the creation of autonomous systems has far-reaching potential. Chief amongst these is user-friendliness, an aspect which Apple excels in already through its unrivalled user interface. David Bailey, a motor industry expert at Aston University in Birmingham, lauds the direction Apple has gone in, further stating how autonomous systems can open up possibilities in making previously non-mobile individuals who don’t use cars more options in that area. Furthermore, Apple great track record for keeping things simple enough for maximum user friendliness leave them one step ahead of the rest of the competition.
The practicality of the shift in focus is also telling. Revolutionalising the automotive industry from scratch would verge on impossible, even for Apple, but there is immense opportunity in use and operations. Apple’s integrative strength with a digital lifestyle offers a seamless experience throughout. First it was at home and the office, now potentially in cars.
Autonomous driving is not a goal unique to Apple. Alphabet, the parent company of Google, also has similar plans. Their famous Waymo division which looks into this technology recently confirmed that their previous ‘Firefly’ bubble car concept is slowly being drifted out to be replaced by a stronger highlight of Alphabet’s partnership on the Chrysler Pacifica Minivan. It seems creating a motor vehicle on their own to rival established automotive companies was more difficult than these technology giants had realised.
On the face of it, it does make sense that going against companies that have been around for multiple decades in the vehicular field would be business suicide. At the most, concept cars could be introduced but taking it further would require too much effort. Hence, a slyer, more measured approach of making the technology to be fit into already existing cars is the smarter choice.
This leap into the future seems to bode well not only for the public but these companies in question. Tim Cook’s most detail comments about the car venture yet has come amidst a week where Apple’s and other U.S Tech firms’ shares are under pressure from investors. The pandering to reassure the public of Apple’s ability to lead such an ambitious project can be seen by cynics to be just that, an attempt to re-popularise a brand in decline.
But one needs only look at the immense innovation brought forth by Apple, Alphabet and similar technology firms to be somewhat reassured that the difficult job of bringing us into the world of tomorrow is being spearheaded by those most qualified for it. The Apple Car may be dead, but a world of self driving cars is opening up in front of us as we speak. And with it will come a deluge of other innovations. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us, and we are fast readying ourselves for it.