Could Apple succeed with a car? Well, the company’s recent Macintosh was distinguished not only by speedy chips but unprecedented battery life. So it’s not surprising that we’ve heard the Apple car will have groundbreaking battery tech, a game changer for electric cars. (On the other hand, Macs still require “dongles” to connect with common peripherals like printers, ring lights, and external drives.)
But even more important will be whether Apple can produce something that transforms the concept of what a car is. That might be a challenge, because Tesla has essentially done this already. When you drive a Tesla, or even sit in one as a passenger, it’s immediately clear that the technology now at the center of our lives has finally been integrated into cars. The dashboard, with its wide display, provides maximum access not only to the car’s functions but to the connected world around it. Some people have even called Tesla an iPhone on wheels.
It’s a hard act to follow. But what company is better placed to challenge Musk than the one that made the iPhone?
Pitifully, but maybe not unexpectedly, this is something that the Detroit carmakers do not seem to understand. In 2015 I visited Bill Ford, chair of the company bearing his name, and asked him what he thought about Telsa. He gave it measured praise, as if it was just another competitor that had come off a conventional assembly line. I wanted to shake him. It’s not about drivetrains, Bill, it’s a paradigm shift! That same year, General Motors CEO Mary Barra was asked a similar question at a conference—the interlocutor was just about begging her to acknowledge Tesla, and her answer was similarly obtuse. Yes, she’d driven a Telsa, she said. The nicest thing she said about it was that it was “new.” Six years later, both companies have credible electric vehicles, but they don’t take your breath away like a Tesla does. Which is why Tesla’s stock price is several times those of Ford and GM combined.
So it seems logical that Apple has the best shot at taking on Elon Musk to rule this century’s roads. The Apple car is not a sure thing (and of course Apple has not commented on what its plans are), but if it does appear, I hope that the iCar will reflect the earth-shattering rethinking that Jobs himself brought to the personal computer, music players, and phones. And that it doesn’t require a dongle for charging.
Here’s an excerpt from the Backchannel story where I wrote about that Bill Ford interview, which took place in his office in Dearborn, Michigan, “a wood-paneled man-cave full of toys and mementos.” But, Henry Ford’s great-grandson told me, it was designed with sustainable materials, from the acoustic tiles to the rugs: