Update: A new Apple Car report (opens in new tab) says that Apple is targeting 2024 for the release date, and that it will have a next-level battery.
“Apple Car….haven’t heard that name in years,” might be something a grizzled tech enthusiast would say as news that Cupertino’s self-driving automobile is years ahead of schedule reaches their ears.
Rumors of an Apple-developed car have emerged anew, thanks to Taiwanese publication Economic Daily News. That report claims executives at Taiwanese manufacturers tipped it off about an Apple Car being ready in the third quarter of 2021 — apparently two years ahead of schedule.
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Now we advise you take this with a carload of skepticism and a generous seasoning of your finest salt of doubt, as a 2021 release of an Apple car is some very dubious sounding news.
Over the past few years, rumors have been bubbling away around Apple’s work on a driverless car. In 2017 Apple was granted a permit to test a self-driving system in California. And Lexus automobiles, supposedly with Apple LiDAR equipment, were seen on California’s roads in the same year.
Meanwhile, Apple oracle and analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has previously said an Apple Car will be released between 2023 and 2025. While this is far from impossible, the idea that an Apple Car will be released in some 12 months time, when we’ve seen barely any recent leaks about it, has us raising a serious eyebrow.
First off, testing a car in secret is very hard. This is something established car makers struggle with, even when testing their cars at locked down proving grounds. And given how much was leaked ahead of the launch of the iPhone 12, AirPods Max and MacBook Air M1 this year, we’d be highly skeptical that Apple would keep an in-house automobile from being leaked at all.
Even if Apple has managed to keep such a car under wraps, car making is a long process full of different stages of development just to get to a prototype. Then there's establishing production lines and going through safety checks and approval. Apple has the money to fund all of this, but to release a car next year still seems highly doubtful. At best we could expect to see a tease of what to expect from... let’s call it an iCar.
However, there’s a good chance that an Apple Car isn’t going to be a vehicle designed and manufactured by Apple, but rather a self-driving system that Apple will provide to car makers for use in their driverless vehicles.
Apple already makes use of LiDAR tech in the iPhone 12 Pro and iPad Pro, and has extensive experience in computer vision, image signal processing and smart software — from Siri to the semantic rendering used in modern iPhone cameras. So it's not a huge leap to see it take that tech and apply it to a driverless car system.
Again, though, it’s quite a step up from making an iPhone to an iCar. And many companies that have tried their hand at car making have failed. Vacuum cleaner company Dyson had a go at making an electric car but scrapped its plans after it found that the car wasn’t commercially viable. Tesla is the only real new player that’s managed to enter the automotive world and provide cars at scale and remain afloat, though it’s only started turning in a steady profit this year and late 2019.
In short, if an Apple Car is on the road at the end of next year, we’d buy a hat, sauté it with some fava beans and eat it, all washed down with a nice chianti. That’s not to say 2021 won’t be an interesting year for Apple, as we’re expecting the iPhone 13 and upgraded iPads — but we don't expect to see Tim Cook behind the wheel of an Apple-branded car at any press events on the near horizon.