Close to a year ago we posted a report titled "Jonathan Ive: We're at the beginning of a remarkable time." The report was based upon a Time's article. The most interesting moment in that article was when Ive stated that Apple was at the beginning of a remarkable time, when a remarkable number of products would be developed. Ive further added that when you think about technology and what it has enabled us to do so far, and what it will enable us to do in future, we're not even close to any kind of limit. It's still so, so new.
Who could have ever imagined at that very moment in time that Jonathan Ive was already hard at work designing a future electronic car? In fact, Apple was in the process of hiring close to 200 people — both from inside the company and from potential competitors like Tesla — to develop technologies for an electric car. Some of those technologies came to light in a series of 2014 patents that we covered in last week's report titled: The iCar: It's Popcorn for your Mind.
This week we posted an extensive Patently Legal report titled "Apple Sued by Advanced Lithium Battery Maker on Several Counts Including Employee Raiding & Misappropriation of Trade Secrets." The company suing Apple is known as "A123" and our report was based on their formal complaint filed with a Massachusetts court. The lawsuit was the closest thing to a smoking gun that Apple was indeed on the fast track to developing a next generation electric car battery.
When reviewing the company's web site it's evident that 99% of what A123 develops is advanced electric car batteries. Only a tiny slice of their work is dedicated to developing batteries related to portable and medical devices.
On another front this week we posted a report titled "Former GM CEO Doesn't Think Apple's Move into Cars is Wise." While former GM CEO Dan Akerson was making his statements about Apple, a report filed two days earlier noted that GM was actively hiring 8,000 programmers.
While the majority of GM's new programmers are reportedly working on a new online store for selling cars and options, it's clear that Detroit fully understands that future cars are going to be more about delivering quality consumer gizmos, super advanced sensors, high-end Heads-Up-Display systems, electric batteries and beyond. They're racing to catch up and come to grips with the changes and challenges that will be knocking on their doors over the next decade.
In that context, Dan Akerson's commentary this week was really more about the fear of Apple entering the auto industry. Yet knowing Apple, they'll reinvent the development cycles of car manufacturing and place priority on finding and delivering breakthrough technologies so that a U.S. car company can once again lead in this sector instead of following the likes of Toyota, Nissan and others.
USA TODAY reported yesterday that Thilo Koslowski, vice president and automotive practice leader with tech advisors Gartner Inc. was on record stating that "Cars are the ultimate mobile device, and anyone that's in technology should get more serious about this space," noting that the automobile has ceased to be defined as a mechanical device and is now viewed "as a software and IT-designed machine that happens to have four wheels."
Koslowski sketched out a near future where perhaps fleets of sleekly designed and likely autonomous cars pick up and drop off passengers in dense urban centers. If that comes to pass, traditional automakers such as Ford and GM will be competing for those contracts with the likes of Google and Apple … Or collaborating.
In the background this week was also the lunacy of hunting down mini vans with LIDAR systems that were rented by Apple. It was like watching a UFO cult going mad photographing these vans. Then again, there's always a circus-like side show to news stories like this. One percent fact, ninety-nine percent speculation.
The whole thing blowing up in the press as it did this week about Apple entering the electric car was surreal. Think back to just a few weeks ago when Apple's CEO Tim Cook was so proud to announce during their Financial Conference Call that CarPlay would be rolling out with 30 automotive brands later this year.
With this week's rumors and quasi facts bouncing around about Apple racing into the electric car business – I kept wondering to myself, why would any car company want to support CarPlay going forward with this latest news on the table? Why would Nissan or Toyota who make electric cars want to support Apple's infotainment system when Apple's larger business plan is to compete with them directly for the whole car itself?
In the end, do we really know what Apple's plans are for an electric car? While the news blitz was exciting to read about with speculative dates thrown around like 2020, we really don't know what Apple is up to. It's just interesting noise like last year's short-lived buzz about Apple TV.
In late 2013 Apple's CEO was trying to enter 2014 with everyone buzzing about Apple TV and how Apple would take it to the next level. His first big media push began with Brian Williams on NBC.
Then Cook added fuel to the fire about Apple TV when talking to Charlie Rose. Apple was definitely banging the war drum that Apple was going to take TV into a whole new era of innovation. What has happened since? Nothing.
That was Cook's first concerted effort of bringing back the "vision" thing to Apple after Steve Jobs passing. Yet after giving two major TV network interviews psyching up the market about Apple TV, it disappeared into the night without a trace. All of that marketing momentum, lost. All that Apple delivered in 2014 was a few more Apple TV channels that were primarily for the U.S. market.
So as the Apple Watch launches in April, can Apple actually be working on the next leap for Apple TV and an electric car at the same time realistically? On the one hand Jony Ive's statement last year in Time magazine about Apple being at the beginning of a remarkable time, when a remarkable number of products would be developed confirms that they can indeed juggle multiple major projects.
On the other hand, Apple's new way of talking-up internal projects like Apple TV so publicly on television and then failing to deliver it in a timely manner is oddly new. The same can be said about having news of an electric car exploding in the press without control. In contrast, Steve Jobs was a master of keeping Apple's mystique at a very high level so that he could control and build interest and momentum about a new product prior to launch. He never talked about projects that were too far into the future.
In the end could Apple be on the cusp of a new era of remarkable innovation? Yes of course and they're likely already beyond the cusp at this point in time. The only disconcerting element surrounding recent news events is how Apple isn't controlling the news of their vision as they once did.
Talking about what's to come too early is a set up for sure disappointment like vaporware was in the 1990's. That's why Jobs stayed clear of that trap. Why Cook and Ive seem to be jockeying for popularity in the press as being the visionary guy at Apple is an oddity lately.
We're seeing long interviews with Apple's Tim Cook (Charlie Rose) and Ive (with the New Yorker) and rarely interviewed together. Although it would serve Apple better if there was a single strong voice for the company like it use to be, it was Steve Jobs who set up the company so that Ive would be able to be independent of Cook. We're now seeing how the two are on different tracks publicly. Whether that's good or bad for Apple is something that we'll only understand over time.
In the meantime, get ready for Apple to take us into a new innovative era where a stream of new products will excite us over and over again. It all starts with Apple Watch in April followed by a possible new iPad Pro and Apple's new music streaming service. And that's only for the first half of 2015. It's sure shaping up to be a great year for new Apple products.