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Every Car Is an Apple Car

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The tech giant is reportedly scratching its decade-long plan to build an EV. It’s upended the auto industry anyway.

Illustration by The Atlantic

Apple has long been a company shrouded in mystery—and perhaps its most mysterious recent project of all has been the Apple Car. For a decade, reports have continually emerged about the company building an electric, autonomous car as smart and beautiful as an iPhone. The company never confirmed the project’s existence, even as it hired executives from Lamborghini and BMW. MotorTrend created a speculative Apple Car in 2016, treating it like an object of science fiction, then another in 2022.

But as of this afternoon, that dream appears dead. Apple is scrapping its electric-car effort and pivoting to generative AI, according to a new report from Bloomberg, in one of the biggest failed endeavors in the tech titan’s history. Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the abandonment, if confirmed, will breed plenty of schadenfreude: billions spent with little to show, all the while pivoting to a different breed of Silicon Valley hype. Elon Musk claimed to have once offered to sell his car company to Apple; today, he saluted the news of a potentially powerful Tesla competitor giving up.

But Apple is so big, and its devices so pervasive, that it didn’t need to sell a single vehicle in order to transform the automobile industry—not through batteries and engines, but through software. The ability to link your smartphone to your car’s touch screen, which Apple pioneered 10 years ago, is now standard. Virtually every leading car company has taken an Apple-inspired approach to technology, to such a degree that “smartphone on wheels” has become an industry cliché. The Apple Car already exists, and you’ve almost certainly ridden in one.

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Speculation that Apple was building a car began in 2014. The far more important announcement that year, however, was that of CarPlay: a way to connect iPhones to cars, over time allowing drivers to take calls, use Maps, play music, order food, and more, right through their vehicle. Google rolled out a similar vehicle feature for Android shortly after.

Now basically everyone has a smartphone, and basically every car has a touch screen. Today, not being able to connect your iPhone to your car would be shocking. As of 2022, a reported 98 percent of new vehicles in the United States had Apple CarPlay. The service doesn’t seem to directly generate revenue yet, but it further locks people into Apple’s screen universe: wake up and turn off the alarm on your iPhone, scroll through social media on an iPad over breakfast, drive to work while blasting Spotify through CarPlay, then type into a MacBook in the office.

Automakers, meanwhile, are trying to wrest control back from Apple by improving their own software. But they’re still following the Apple model. Late last year, GM shocked many when it announced a discontinuation of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, citing safety reasons—but the auto company’s own infotainment already functions, in essence, like an iPad or a Google Pixel tablet. Former Apple executives lead the software business at Ford and GM. And plenty of smartphone manufacturers—including Sony and Huawei—have followed Apple in trying to build cars as well.

An all-electric sedan emblazoned with the Apple logo may never pass you on the expressway. But plenty of drivers navigating with Google Maps, taking a call, or dictating a text message to a screen on their dashboard hooked up to an iPhone have already done so, and will continue to. Later this year, vehicles from Porsche and Aston Martin will include the next generation of Apple CarPlay, which will control not just infotainment but also much of the car: It will be able to dial the radio, change the temperature, access video feeds from the car’s cameras, check tire pressure, make fuel payments, and more. In an era of electric vehicles run by software and controlled largely through screens, Apple is poised to wield more automotive power than ever.

Apple’s path to automobile ascendance may even provide a road map for its approach to generative AI. Ubiquitous products and a self-contained software ecosystem have led drivers to prefer vehicles with CarPlay and similar systems; Apple didn’t have to build a single car to infiltrate nearly every car on the road. Similarly, the company may not need to build a chatbot that rivals those from Google, Microsoft, and OpenAI if most Americans want ChatGPT and Gemini to run on their beloved iPhones. Generative-AI products, like automobiles before them, may have no choice but to do Apple’s bidding. The car did, in the end, get the Apple makeover.



Source: The Atlantic

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