Why Apple Is Not Building An Autonomous Car (and what it's building instead).

Barring a horrible spate of autopilot accidents the self-driving car movement is in full swing. The technology is improving at pace with Elon Musk declaring that “worldwide regulatory approval will require something on the order of 6 billion miles (10 billion km). Current fleet learning is happening at just over 3 million miles (5 million km) per day.” Every single one of the big technology and automobile players is plowing money and brainpower into being the company that ushers us into this utopian future where there will be zero vehicular accidents caused by human behind the wheel errors. Only Apple keeps denying that they are working on autonomous cars while hiring some of the best minds

But is Apple really building a car? Why would they? Why are we assuming that all that matters in this push is the actual development of the self-driving car? We forget there are a lot of aspects to the technology that is required to make that future happen. I believe Apple is building something else…

I believe Apple is building the autonomous car Operating System (OS) using the IPhone/Apple Watch as a portable telematic device: knowing where a car is, what condition it’s in and recording that information to make better decisions is something that will be required in every autonomous car. We all know our iPhones are already personal telematic devices (I hope you do). The phone tracks your location and your health (see images below).

Becoming the mobile telematic system OS is the most strategically adjacent move Apple can make. Why would a company ignore it’s most sold asset,surpassing 1Bn iPhones sold this past week, to focus on a product that is capital intensive and not it’s core competence? Why would Apple enter a space where the most talked about company in the space is one that has not sold more than 150,000 cars? Yes, the orders for the Tesla Model 3 has broken records for EVs sold but the real work will be in delivering those cars and that will be interesting to watch.

As we move into a future where fewer people will actually own cars but people will continue to buy IPhones I do not expect Apple to move away from what is working. Imagine an OS that enables any brand of autonomous car to work with the telematic system that is on the riders iPhone? Seamlessly. A standard autonomous car OS (ACOS) on your iPhone will improve routing and getting a car to you regardless of the cab/car service you choose to use — the autonomous Uber cab app will most likely only work with Uber cars — and improve customer service since you’ll get the closest available car/cab regardless of the autonomous car service provider.

Yes Apple is hiring the best automotive engineers. But it isn’t to build a car. It’s to learn from the best in the industry so that it can do to the industry exactly what it did to the music industry with iTunes. An ACOS will iTunesthe industry by

  • enabling each one of us with an iPhone to order any car or cab from any provider where you need it from your iPhone. It’s the a la carte model like the 99c single from ITunes.
  • levelling the playing field and accelerate the shared resource model where anyone with an autonomous car can rent out their own car to anyone without an intermediary and get paid through (you guessed it) Apple Pay.
  • combining with Apple HomeKit to provide a seamless convenience experience across the home and vehicle of the Apple customer unmatchable by no one else in the industry with their siloes of service.

If we accept that Apple cares about design and understands the customer then an autonomous car, with all it’s inherent business risks, is the wrong strategy.

Something else I know about Apple is that the company is too smart to continue to cede leadership in the battle for the future as being defined by Amazon (Alexa), Alphabet and Facebook (Oculus)…an ACOS for the autonomous future of the vehicle and the connected home makes too much sense for it not to happen.

It’s the only way Apple can compete in this fast approaching future...