A steady stream of rumors suggest that there's an Apple Car in our not-too-distant future, with Apple allegedly building an electric car that's due to arrive in three years' time. Whether that's true or not, the initial result probably won't be anything like the Apple Car that went viral on social media this week.
Perhaps you a saw the retweeted report from a site called VRScout (opens in new tab), which has written a report on an Apple patent application for an in-car infotainment system built around virtual reality. "Apple's self-driving car could feature VR technology and no windows," read the tweet promoting the report (opens in new tab).
What probably caught people's eye, though, was the accompanying graphic — a concept image of an Apple Car that actually dates back to a December 2020 post on Let's Go Digital (opens in new tab). The car vaguely resembles a black Apple Magic Mouse with wheels attached — so much so that it won't take much searching to find Twitter wags wondering whether you charge the vehicle by plugging it in from the bottom.
Apple's self-driving car could feature VR technology and no windows: https://t.co/86T8nP1LOX pic.twitter.com/YCwrVrJRjcMay 17, 2022
The headline and image combo made painted quite the dystopian picture of a lightless, windowless car hurtling itself down the highway, while the passengers trapped inside strapped on virtual reality headsets, if only to get some reminder of the bleak afterscape just outside of their automotive tomb. Can't wait for the Apple launch event pitching that experience.
But the actual patent (opens in new tab) itself, which surfaced a couple weeks ago when Patently Apple brought it to light, paints a much dryer picture. Yes, the patent addresses an AR/VR headset designed for self-driving cars, with the idea of providing different use cases for passengers who won't have to bother with piloting the vehicle. For business users, the VR headset could provide a way to conduct video chats during travel times, while leisure passengers could use the headset system to watch movies or play games.
The patent also details some of the other VR experiences that passengers could enjoy, whether it's having points of interest pop up on the headset whether it's the current city or a virtual location or even turning your ride into a new experience altogether. These could include things like virtual car chases or fleeing through an apocalyptic hellscape while you're pursued by virtual zombies. (Yes, the patent specifically calls out the zombie example.) In these kinds of scenarios, the acceleration and braking of the car would be incorporated into the virtual experience, and 4DX touches like wind being blown in your face are also mentioned.
And yes, the patent also specifies that the VR headset could be used to combat motion sickness triggered by driving in a windowless vehicle by giving passengers a virtual view of the outside world. It seems to me you could accomplish that same effect by putting actual windows in your car, but Apple has many patents and I have none, so what do I know?
About here is where we put in the usual caveat about reports centered around patents — that just because a company holds a patent covering something doesn't mean you'll find it in a future product. But it should be pretty apparent that what Apple is doing here is picking up a patent for something it could develop later down the line but is unlikely to be part of whatever vehicle the company may be working on right now.
Just as you have to walk before you can run, you have to build an actual car before you can release a self-driving windowless VR funhouse that sounds like it belongs in an amusement park rather than on our nation's highways and byways.
Apple Car rumors have Apple producing an electric vehicle sometime around 2025 at the earliest. The EV is rumored to be a self-driving one, and most of the definitive leaks surrounding the car at this point involving Apple lining up talent from the automotive industry to work on the project.
In the meantime, Apple's AR/VR headset could appear as early as the end of the year or early 2023, as the device has reportedly just been shown off to Apple's board (opens in new tab). And this fall we have the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro to look forward to.