With stories of Tesla Motors’ [NSDQ:TSLA] pilfering of talent from Apple, and a flow of workers the other way also making the rounds, it’s perhaps no surprise that the electronics brand is being tied up with rumors of a scratch-designed car in the works. After all, a car planned from the ground up by the minds at Apple might be a game changer.
The rumor originates with The Mac Observer’s report on a BusinesInsider article, as noted (and discounted) by UI designer and writer John Gruber. It has since expanded with The Wall Street Journal weighing in, claiming hundreds of Apple employees have been assigned to an automotive project code named Project Titan.
The Mac Observer’s Bryan Chaffin wrote “I should add that when I asked one of my sources flat out to put a percentage chance on Apple working on an actual car—rather than some kind of car-related technology—I was told, ’80 percent.’”
What makes that percentage guesstimate accurate—or possibly even an underestimate, as Chaffin argues? Several elements, read together, could point directly at an Apple Car project—and not one related to infotainment or iPhone integration, but toward building an actual four-wheeled transportation device.
First, an (unnamed, confidential) Apple employee’s statement to BusinessInsider: “Apple’s latest project is too exciting to pass up. I think it will change the landscape and give Tesla a run for its money.” That’s a pretty direct indication of a car being in the works, at least in the initial project stages, at Apple—if the insider’s account is true.
Add to that, Chaffin claims, the widespread belief at the upper echelons of Silicon Valley circles that Apple is and has been working on a car for some time—a factor to be taken with, at the least, a grain or two of salt.
Mix in the poaching of Tesla employees above and beyond the normal sort of Silicon Valley turnover, and it’s beginning to come clearer, although this factor could simply indicate a desire to better integrate or create new in-car products such as Apple Car Play--except for the type of people being hired and their specialties.
In other words, believing Apple is working on a car is still, at this point, a gut feeling—you either think it’s real or you don’t. And even if it is real, Apple may decide not to give the project the green light for production; there are many barriers to entry into the car business, and even a great product doesn’t guarantee profitability—see, for example, Tesla Motors.
It wouldn't be the first time people have envisioned Apple's potential in the car world. In 2010, a student designer at IED, Turin created the "iMove," an interpretation of the automotive space through Apple's contemporary design aesthetic.
But—and this one is Kardashian-sized—if Apple is working on a car, and if it does get built, what might that mean for the automotive landscape as a whole? Could it be as revolutionary as the iPhone’s arrival in the smartphone world? Or is the automotive field too weighed down by regulations, physical constraints, and practical necessities to allow that kind of innovation?
It’s a question certainly worth asking, whatever the answer.