Will Apple Car be the new BlackBerry?

Licensing may lead to dominance

Apple, iOS, Apple Car, BlackBerry, QNX, Mark Gurman
Credit: Waledro?Flickr

There’s a Bloomberg story going round that claims Apple’s hired Dan Dodge, the founder and former chief executive officer of QNX Software Systems. He’s to join the Apple Car team that’s now led by Bob Mansfield.

Changing gears

The claim is that Apple is no longer solely focused on building its own autonomous vehicle, but also on developing an operating system that could be licensed to other auto-makers.

That makes sense.

It would be very hard for Apple to replace every car in the world with an Apple Car if it doesn’t work in partnerships with others – licensing the OS may help, as the Android thing proved. Apple does not want to bring a unique product to market, only to see it emulated and/or bettered and thus become the new BlackBerry. It’s arguable that licensing will help the company build an unassailable lead in the market. It all hinges on how many Apple Cars the company wants to sell

I’m not sure how new a direction this really is. I wrote last year: “I think these hires are focused on engine/vehicle transmission and control systems and telematics, rather than vehicle design, so I rather suspect vehicle intelligence is the core focus.”

Many more

Dodge isn’t the first QNX guy Apple has hired. I’ve taken a look around and can identify at least ten ex-QNX staff that are now on the Apple payroll.

I’m not going to name anyone as I don’t want to generate friction for them in their new life at notoriously secretive, Apple Inc, and it would add nothing to the story to do so. All ten are engineers (software or hardware). One of them now describes themselves as an “iOS Car Systems Engineer”.

Perhaps the biggest known historical ex-QNX hire is former SVP Software Engineering, Sebastien Marienau. He tried to join Apple in 2013, but the deal ended up in court. Today he is VP Software at Apple.

It’s not just QNX, of course, with a team reported to be in the hundreds it’s no big surprise that you will also find numerous staff who formerly worked at big auto manufacturers, including Steve Zadesky, former leader of the Project Titan/Apple Car project. These people bring a broad range of skills, including senior car industry R&D and auto body construction expertise.

What does this prove?

That Apple has been hiring people who have stints at QNX on their CV is well known. That the expanding company is interested in recruiting the best and the brightest from across a broad range of industries also makes complete sense. Any growing company needs diverse talent. None of this really means Apple is making a car, does it?

Except we all now know it is. Apple has even filed papers with the city of Sunnyvale in which it admitted itself to be testing systems for "high-end cars". The company isn’t just working on cars, either, the company’s R&D spend is at an all time high, up to $2.6 billion in the last three months. “There is quite a bit of investment in there for products and services that are not currently shipping or derivations of what is currently shipping,” said Apple CEO, Tim Cook, earlier this week.

What we think we know

So, what do we think we know about Apple Car? We think it is scheduled to hit the roads in 2020, we think it will be autonomous, host Siri-based controls, use Apple’s private AI system, may employ retina and TouchID scans, and (assuming the company ships its own vehicle) will be designed to impress.

It is likely to be electric, will host the latest in battery and green energy technologies, and will be autonomous, or semi-autonomous.

Somewhat conveniently (for Apple) it should appear after the first wave of such vehicles test the legal and insurance challenges that will be generated by putting things like this on the road. (By 2024, Analysys Mason expects 89% of new cars will include embedded connectivity.)

The car may even become a poster child for AR-based car control systems. (There’s already at least one great example of this.)

Take a look at these previous stories for more insight:

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