What is the wheel story at Apple?
More hires from the auto industry over at Cupertino, this time from Fiat / Chrysler (but also the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology’s Autonomous Systems Lab) all fueling speculation as to what the fruit-shaped brand is thinking about cars.
It would appear that we’re not over our thing for cars. Car sales are up in the UK. The usual ‘millennial’s don’t drive’ is somewhat wide of the truth and it’s a more nuanced story – and in the US also, people of all ages are still buying cars. So it would seem total logical to think that adding more car-product choice would be the route for tech-brands keen to muscle in.
But is the ‘car’ the story? I love a bit of uninformed speculation, so what if it wasn’t cars Apple was interested in – but car ownership and the evolving shape of the interface between them and us?
If you subscribe to the idea that, given there’s only so much traffic our transport infrastructure can support, some form of control over what we do with cars and where we can take them is inevitable, then more autonomous control seems very likely. Pointedly a notion Uber seem be banking on with Tesla.
If greater autonomy means better environmental control (over congestion, pollution, time, etc.) then ceding ‘driving’ as a key part of the experience of owning a car begs the question ‘why own?’ when all I do is ‘use’. And at a stretch, use this or that manufacturer’s ‘content’. A Fiat, a Chrysler, whichever.
The means to access ‘content’ – your use of a car for a given period or need – could easily become the new battle-ground for the automotive-customer experience. Given this is already possible – and an integral part of some brands (Leaf, XC90) – through app-based access and control, albeit in a limited sense, the fact that the interfaces are delivered by Apple devices… well, it’s not a great leap of the imagination is it, that Apple (as past-masters at ‘managing’ our relationship with the things we use) might see the future of cars through an entirely different kind of (wind)screen that the manufacturers.
I’d guess Apple isn’t interested in making cars. What they’re chasing is something far more valuable – the car customer. Something – and someone – the automotive industry has been notorious for overlooking.