Apple Car: Don’t Believe the Hype Just Yet

tim-cook.jpg Apple CEO Tim Cook; | "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” image

News broke yesterday that Apple had confirmed it’s working on a car and hoped to ship it in 2019. But wait. Really? Apple CEO Tim Cook was on CBS’ “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” on Sept. 15, and when Colbert asked him about the car, Cook said nothing about it.

Related: Rumors Swirl Around a Car From Apple

As I dug past the coverage of The Wall Street Journal’s story to the actual story itself, I found the line I expected to see: “An Apple spokesman declined to comment.” An Apple spokesperson declined to comment about The Wall Street Journal’s story.

If Apple were ever to talk about a product that’s years away from release, it would be unprecedented for the company in its post-1997 era. Don’t believe any rumors about an Apple car until you see Cook (or, given the project’s complexity, the son or daughter he raised to take his place) stepping out of one.

Overall, my thinking about the Apple car hasn’t changed since the rumor first broke (by, of course, the Wall Street Journal) early this year:

Apple saw a great financial opportunity in mobile phone space, but its management and engineers also hated their own BlackBerrys, Palms and Windows Phones and saw a great opportunity to do better and solve a problem. If we do see an Apple car, I’d expect it to be the result of the same kind of inspiration.

Furthermore, I don’t think it’s a given that Apple is keen to build and sell its own product. Apple could stay out of all of the state-by-state and country-by-country regulatory snarls by becoming something akin to the earliest automakers: One factory produces everything that makes the car go vroom and then a coachmaker builds a seat, body and comforts around it.

Industry analyst Benedict Evans goes into this idea in greater length in his blog post, Ways to Think About Cars. Modern electric cars can be built like smartphones, where a company that wants to launch a line of super-secure devices can use Google’s operating system and HTC’s handset design, which uses Qualcomm’s GSM chip systems, and combine them in a way that expresses its unique vision.

Apple could be successful in the auto market. Not by sending fleets of Space Gray sedans to the road, but by being the furnishers of technology that becomes as much a point of pride in a traditional automaker’s brochure as a high-performance engine or a high-end stereo system. Only time will tell. contributor Andy Ihnatko is a nationally known tech writer.

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