Apple's products are small enough fit in a pocket, on your wrist, in a bag, or at worst atop a desk. But the company's next big thing may be truly massive indeed: it's a car.
Well, reportedly. Apple car rumours have popped up here and there for years, and Steve Jobs even considered building one back when – but in early 2015, the rumours picked up incredible steam, with major publications reporting details on Apple's supposed plans to create electric, and maybe eventually self-driving cars.
And the reports haven't stopped coming, either, as we've written at least a dozen stories in the year or so since. Can Apple really be the next Tesla? They certainly have the ambition for it, not to mention the money to funnel into the extravagantly expensive development process.
If the idea of an iCar sounds downright magical, read on: this is everything we've heard so far, and we'll be updating it regularly until Apple finally sees fit to show the thing.
The first big report on the matter came back in February 2015, when Business Insider claimed that Apple had a project in "vehicle development" that would give Tesla "a run for its money." Apple already has its CarPlay connected car system available (shown), but that's hardly anything Tesla would bat an eye at. This is something bigger.
Later that week, the Wall Street Journal dropped a megaton report, claiming that Apple was indeed well into the project, called "Titan." It was claimed to be a minivan-like vehicle that would definitely be an electric car, but probably not a self-driving one as well.
According to the Journal, several hundred employees were already working on the project at that time, with plenty of people hired away from traditional car companies. Steve Zadesky, who had worked at Ford, was leading the project, while former Tesla and Mercedes-Benz staffers were said to be knee-deep in development.
The rumour mill quieted down for a while, although in July 2015, Apple reportedly hired away Doug Betts, former global quality control head for Fiat Chrysler, as well as a leading European researcher on self-driving cars.
An i3 iCar?
Later in July, we heard that Apple was in negotiations to base its electric car on the design of the BMW i3 – a move not entirely different from how Tesla based its first Roadster on the Lotus Elise before moving on to bespoke designs. According to the report, Apple CEO Tim Cook and other executives visited BMW's production facility in Leipzig, Germany.
However, in April 2016, German business magazine Handelsblatt reported that the companies were done negotiating and couldn't reach a deal. Why? Control, of course: Apple wanted the car's software to be built into its own iCloud systems, while BMW and Daimler weren't quite ready to give up the keys, and there was some disagreement over who would take lead on the project.
According to that report, contract car manufacturer Magna may instead fill the role of producing the car for Apple, although that's the last we've heard of it for now.
And in August, another big bit of info hit: The Guardian was able to uncover public records that showed that Apple was trying to book a self-driving car testing facility.
Apple employees communicated with representatives of the GoMentum Station in Concord, California, a former U.S. Navy weapons station, about using its 20 miles of closed-off roadway for testing. Understandably, Apple was trying to book testing time that wouldn't conflict with other carmakers' use of the facility, seemingly to keep its own project under wraps.
Perhaps the biggest info dump came in September 2015, when the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple had deemed Titan a "committed project," and told leaders to triple the head count of employees from its then-current total of about 600 people. That's huge.
According to the report, Apple wanted the car ready to ship in 2019, although there was some conflict over exactly what "shipping" entailed. Supposedly, Apple deems a project ready to ship internally once its core components are finalized, rather than when it's quite literally out the door and headed to consumers. So it could be another year or two beyond 2019 'til we would actually see the cars on the road.
Also, the report clarified that Apple's first car will be only of the electric sort, not self-driving. Despite that testing attempt, Apple's autonomous automobile ambitions stretch further into the future, and the company only wants a proper electric car ready out of the gate.
Apple registered several car-related web domains, as discovered in January 2016, but then there was an apparent shake-up. The Wall Street Journal reported later that month that project head Steve Zadesky had left Apple due to personal reasons, however development was also running into difficulties.
Employees were reportedly struggling without "clear goals for the project," especially with the ambitious 2019 ship date looming for the company's first-ever car. That's to be expected, although it's not clear if Zadesky's departure helped ease those frustrations.
More recently, we've heard a few interesting bits that could be related to the car project: Apple invested US$1 billion in massively popular Chinese ride-hailing service Didi Chuxing in May 2016, which Tim Cook said was "for a number of strategic reasons." Perhaps testing a fleet of electric or self-driving cars in the future?
And later in the month, Reuters reported that Apple was looking into building its own electric charging infrastructure and stations, much like Tesla's own Superchargers. Apple is reportedly trying to innovate in the space to make charging easier and more convenient for eventual Apple car owners, and has hired away engineers from BMW and Google to make it happen.
Apple loves to control the entire user experience, after all, so it makes total sense.
What Apple says
Apple hasn't said anything officially on the matter, of course – but Tim Cook did drop some strong hints when asked about the project by Fortune in February 2016. Asked if he would get into specifics, he said, "Yeah, I'm probably not going to do that." But he continued anyway.
"The great thing about being here is we're curious people," he explained. "We explore technologies, and we explore products. And we’re always thinking about ways that Apple can make great products that people love, that help them in some way. And we don't go into very many categories, as you know. We edit very much. We talk about a lot of things and do fewer. We debate many things and do a lot fewer."
"We don't have to spend large amounts to explore. So I can't talk about this certain area that you're talking about. But when we start spending large amounts of money, we're committed at that point. But we explore things with teams of people. And that's a part of being curious," he added.
In short: obviously we're working on a car project, no I won't tell you anything specific, and yes I'll keep stringing you along for a few more years. Ah, Apple.
UPDATE (21/9/16): Here's something that might blow your mind: Apple is reportedly in discussions to buy McLaren, the UK supercar maker. The Financial Times (via 9to5Mac) reports that Apple has been talking with the company about a full takeover for months now, but that Apple could make a strategic investment instead of buying McLaren outright.
McLaren is working on an electric car of its own, although the cars it makes are far, far more expensive than anything Apple could make if it wants to get mainstream (or even upscale mainstream) buyers into its ride. However, McLaren's expertise and talent could be used to build something much further down the price scale while remaining desirable. Also, McLaren's brilliant tech can be used for a lot of other things, as a fascinating Wired feature from 2015 showed.
The supposed acquisition would be valued at US$1.5 billion, which is a pittance for Apple given its US$200 billion or so in cash reserves. However, McLaren has denied the report, saying that Apple has no investment planned. But if something really is happening behind the scenes, it's unlikely that either company would want to tip its hand before a deal is made.
The New York Times also confirms that Apple had had discussions with McLaren, but only mentions the possibility of investment, not an acquisition. However, Apple is reportedly also trying to acquire startup Lit Motors, which is working on an electric, self-balancing motorcycle. Apple has already hired away several former Lit employees, the report claims.
Earlier this month, reports claimed that Apple had let go of dozens of employees on the Titan car project due to some changes in approach and difficulties with development. Maybe buying up some expertise will help Apple right the ship, then.
When's it coming?
In a feature article about a trio of brothers who are reportedly working on the project, it claims, "One person who worked briefly with the Titan team was told during their tenure at Apple that the company had been trying to deliver a vehicle by 2020 but the target slipped to 2021."
If true, it's not a huge surprise given the reported difficulties mentioned above: it is Apple's first car project, and building a car - especially an assumedly innovative one - takes a ton of talent, money, and time. Tesla has a knack for missing ship targets, but the products are always worth the wait. Hopefully that's true with Apple's Titan, as well.
ORIGINAL: Analysts suggest an Apple car could be priced around US$55,000, which would put it close to the Tesla Model S but significantly higher than the base price of the upcoming Tesla Model 3, which comes in at $35,000 before tax incentives.
Given Apple's internal 2019 ship target, it might be more like 2020 or 2021 before we have Apple Cars zipping around our city streets. So you've got a few years to start saving, right? Get to it, already.