Analysts pontificate on cars, transportation as part of Apple's long-term future

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited May 2017
Noted Apple analysts Neil Cybart and Horace Dediu sat down with UBS' Steven Milunovich to discuss Apple's future -- and a big topic of conversation was where Apple's intent is in the automotive and transportation spaces.




In a transcript of a conversation had on May 9, Above Avalon's Neil Cybart declared that he believes that "transportation could be the future of Apple," and called the storied Project Titan not a discrete product, but an entire transportation platform. Apple's investments in self-driving car technology, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and mapping point to a more systemic approach to transportation, rather than just a focus on cars.

"If you remove the branding, cars are all about the same now. Car companies don't want to take risks," said Cybart. "That's why you see these crossovers. Is that really the best way forward? I think Apple thinks differently."

The risks of Apple-controlled and developed transportation are less about technology, and more about business realities, according to Cybart. The analyst believes that the first iPhone concepts were developed in the early part of the 21st century, and it wasn't until Apple started figuring out how to sell it that the concept solidified -- and cars and associated industries likely won't be any different.
"There's an ocean of money out there. They'll take their part of it." -- Horace Deidu
"This management team in particular understands that the way forward is to control the whole experience, both the hardware and software," said Cybart. "The question that everyone is debating is whether there is a business behind this."

"I don't think the chatter about them just doing the self-driving piece and then working with legacy automakers is correct," added Cybart. "That's more or less the press getting snapshots of what's happening with Project Titan and jumping to conclusions. "

Asymco.com founder and Senior Fellow at the Clayton Christiansen Institute Horace Dediu mostly agrees, but believes that there will be an exodus from Silicon Valley as companies figure out how to make money with the long life-cycle of automobiles. However, Apple remains in a good place to capitalize on the long cycle, by holding a massive amount of cash on hand to weather any transitions that may need to happen.

"If you're stamping out sheet metal, you're in a five-year cycle for product launches and a 15-year cycle in terms of vehicle life span. You're looking at a 20-year cycle," said Dediu. "What makes Silicon Valley possible is a one-year cycle time. As a result, the timing is going to cause people disillusionment. I don't think Apple will be disillusioned long term. They'll try to figure it out and get to that plateau of productivity."

"There is a $15 trillion estimate out there for transportation; manufacturing alone is $5 trillion. This is way more than telecom, way more than computing, way more than IT, and even more than healthcare, " concluded Dediu. "There's an ocean of money out there. They'll take their part of it."

On April 21, a report revealed snippets of Apple's California Department of Motor Vehicles self-driving car application, offering insight into the company's autonomous vehicle project. Apple's full application was revealed a bit later, and incorporates a copy of the testing process it used to certify the six drivers who will pilot three modified 2015 Lexus RX450h SUVs.

Even before the autonomous vehicle permits in California, Apple was long rumored to be working on vehicle technology under the "Project Titan" aegis. The company reportedly abandoned efforts to create a branded car in late 2016 when former project leader Steve Zadesky left Apple and handed the reins over to senior VP of Hardware Engineering Dan Riccio.

Project Titan was later transferred to longtime executive Bob Mansfield, who subsequently culled hundreds of employees and refocused the program on self-driving software and supporting hardware.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 8

    Elf-driven cars would be interesting, but not a core competency of tech firms (typo in the second sentence of the article).

    The point about longer-than-software product cycles is interesting, but overstated.  The fact that cars can stay on the road for 15 years doesn't make it a 20-year product cycle.  There is a significant part of the market that leases cars for 2 or 3 years or trades-in/upgrades every 3-5 years.  I don't think the good folks at Toyota or VW are giving much thought to their cars on the used market that they sold in 2002.

  • Reply 2 of 8
    rogifan_newrogifan_new Posts: 4,105member
    I've never understood the whole Apple is building a car platform for others to use. This goes way beyond an infotainment system and all the major auto companies are already doing their own thing. So which auto maker would start using Apple's platform? And why would Apple want to be just a piece of technology in someone else's product? And quite honesty for Apple I think building an autonomous/self driving software system would be more difficult than building an actual car. Perhaps that's why the project was scaled back. There's not much point building a car if they can't get the software right.
  • Reply 3 of 8
    irelandireland Posts: 17,620member
    Cybart mostly just rambles and repeats himself. I find his podcast episodes most tedious, where you hear him listen to himself speak the same sentence over and over using different word groupings. His comment about the press getting snapshots and jumping to conclusions is about the only time I've seen him making a cohesive point. You don't build out a self-driving system (when many other car makers are already doing this) and worry about vehicle hardware later—especially with 800+ car-oriented engineers waiting in the wings. Make no mistake, Apple has teams in different countries working on vehicle hardware right now. They are designing every part, including the self-driving system.
    edited May 2017
  • Reply 4 of 8
    JinTechJinTech Posts: 377member
    And why would Apple want to be just a piece of technology in someone else's product?
    What about CarPlay?
  • Reply 5 of 8
    brucemcbrucemc Posts: 1,528member
    JinTech said:
    And why would Apple want to be just a piece of technology in someone else's product?
    What about CarPlay?
    Well, based on how long it took car manufacturers to include it, and how some have bungled it (at lease early on, per reviews), it might be a good reason why not to go that route. 

    It does provide value to iOS device owners, and it helps Apple get a better understanding of the market.  But I expect their aspirations go further.
    jony0watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 8
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 20,752member
    brucemc said:
    JinTech said:
    And why would Apple want to be just a piece of technology in someone else's product?
    What about CarPlay?
    Well, based on how long it took car manufacturers to include it, and how some have bungled it (at lease early on, per reviews), it might be a good reason why not to go that route. 

    It does provide value to iOS device owners, and it helps Apple get a better understanding of the market.  But I expect their aspirations go further.
    They may have ideas like Honda's. Reinvent the car. The car-maker's aren't quite as clueless IMO as some of us may think they are. 
    http://analysis.tu-auto.com/autonomous-car/honda-plans-car-ultimate-mobile-device
  • Reply 7 of 8
    brucemcbrucemc Posts: 1,528member
    gatorguy said:
    brucemc said:
    JinTech said:
    And why would Apple want to be just a piece of technology in someone else's product?
    What about CarPlay?
    Well, based on how long it took car manufacturers to include it, and how some have bungled it (at lease early on, per reviews), it might be a good reason why not to go that route. 

    It does provide value to iOS device owners, and it helps Apple get a better understanding of the market.  But I expect their aspirations go further.
    They may have ideas like Honda's. Reinvent the car. The car-maker's aren't quite as clueless IMO as some of us may think they are. 
    http://analysis.tu-auto.com/autonomous-car/honda-plans-car-ultimate-mobile-device
    I would fully expect an "Apple Car" to indeed take a fresh look as to what to job to be done for a car is.  it might not be what people think. 
  • Reply 8 of 8
    JinTech said:
    And why would Apple want to be just a piece of technology in someone else's product?
    What about CarPlay?
    Everyone says Apple will never do anything unless they can control the whole experience but as you say, CarPlay is one example and Apple TV is another. They chose to produce something that plugs into someone else's hardware and not worry about losing money on an already established category like TVs or cars
    gatorguy
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