"The target is electric vehicles", Roger Lanctot, associate director of global automotive practice at Strategy Analytics, told EE Times.
Opinions among analysts, however, vary, with some comments more nuanced than others.
When we asked the analysts to break down why Apple might be viable in the automotive business — what Apple can and cannot contribute to the car industry and why carmakers would even want to work with Apple — they were almost unanimous.
The key factors, according to the experts, are electricity, connected cars, on-demand car services and driverless cars. All of these newfangled notions are driving traditional car OEMs to the edge, if not over the edge. This, in turn, creates an automotive opening for tech companies like Apple and Google, who have had no experience building cars.
Based on conversations, EE Times has had with a variety of industry experts, here is the outlook.
Peripheral to cars?
The most conservative view is that Apple won't make an entire car. Period. Apple's motivation is to leverage its strength in software to develop something “peripheral” to the car.
Egil Juliussen, director research & principal analyst at IHS Automotive Technology, put a twist on this theory, tying connected cars with self-driving cars.
"CarPlay takes what you want to do with your iPhone while driving and puts them on your car's build-in display," according to Apple. (Source: Apple)
He explained that both Apple and Google are already involved in connected cars in many ways — including Apple's CarPlay and Google's Android Auto. "This segment is to provide content and information for drivers and passenger. Both companies have been positioning themselves for major impact for several years and they are and will remain leaders in connected car content."
The interesting part, though, is how this “content and information” business serving drivers and passengers might drastically change in the age of self-driving cars. "Apple is good at developing a whole package — in particular, user interfaces," said Juliussen. The irony here is that "self-driving cars, which require no drivers, will need no U.I."
Although there is much uncertainty how the self-driving car segment will evolve and when it might become important, Juliussen said, "Much more knowledge of the auto industry is required [for Apple to understand what self-driving cars will need in the future]."
He added, "And according to all the news, Apple is definitely getting expertise that can be used to determine what any future products should be."
If Apple's automotive game plan continues to be about advancing CarPlay, or developing content and information services for passengers and drivers, it's not much different from its current business model in automotive.
If Apple is focused on more of the same, why does it keep hiring key automotive engineers?