What It Would Take for Apple to Make a Car
Male Narrator: An unparalleled design, long-lasting battery performance, and an innovative autonomous system. Introducing the Apple Car.
Female Narrator: Well, our version of the Apple Car if a car could be made out of iPhone parts. Apple’s auto ambitions have been rumored for years, and we still don’t know if they’ll come to fruition. But what we do know is that from self-driving capabilities to running completely on battery power, cars are becoming more and more like giant gadgets. Even if you’re not driving a Tesla or new electric vehicle, there’s a good chance your car is still powered at least in part by a computer. So, what’s next in the digital car revolution?
Gene Munster: Today, traditional auto companies need to radically change how they do business. It’s very different when you look at how an electric and autonomous car is built. It is more like a computer on wheels.
Female Narrator: But what would it take to make a car that’s just as convenient and well-integrated as an iPhone? And what parts does Apple already have experience engineering and producing? To answer that, we had an idea: crack open an iPhone and build a car with the key automotive parts.
Tom Forsyth, a 3D artist from London, was up to the challenge. We shipped him a bunch of recycled iPhones and components, he mocked up some ideas, and we were cruising right along.
Tom Forsyth: I would thoroughly not recommend taking apart iPhones unless you’re a trained professional for it because you may get cut, you may set things on fire in a very dramatic way.
Narrator: Okay, so not everything in here is made of iPhone parts. The wheels, container for the seats, and some other parts are 3D-printed. But most of it is iPhone. And yes, this was made in London, so the steering wheel is on the right side of the car.
Tom Forsyth: We tried to use as many of the iPhone parts as possible. We used the entire back shell and all of the main components of the iPhone 11 to be the kind of main undercarriage and engine of the car, as it were.
Narrator: While Tom was building, we spoke to experts about the technology that’s going to be core to the future of the car. Here’s what we put together. One of the most important parts of this computer on wheels: the battery and the infrastructure to charge it. Apple knows a thing about batteries and chargers. Okay, fine. The Apple Car won’t be charged via lightning port, and hopefully, Apple doesn’t change the connector every few years. But Apple has spent decades improving its battery performance in everything from phones to laptops to watches. But does that mean Apple could just scale up its batteries and put them in a car? We asked Jennifer Colgrove, an automotive analyst who spends a lot of time talking with battery and car companies.
Jennifer Colgrove: And each battery cell is still the fundamentally same chemistry as the cell you are using on your phone or your laptop computer. They are the fundamentally the same chemistry. But, however, when you pack a lot of the batteries, thousands of them, sometimes even like…even like tens of thousands of cells together into a EV battery. So that is dramatic.
Narrator: Most EV batteries are made of some combination of lithium ion and cobalt, both high-demand materials Apple’s familiar working with. But to make car batteries, you’d need more land to build a factory, more raw materials and a labor force that knows how to build EV batteries. Of course, Apple could outsource its battery production much like it does now with its iPhone batteries. But Apple is known for vertical integration, controlling as much of the supply chain as possible like with its chips and processors, another core, pun intended, element to the computerization of the car.
Apple has been making its own A series chips for the iPhone, iPad and Apple watch for at least a decade. And in 2020, Apple announced plans to end its 15-year partnership with Intel to start making its own very powerful chips for its Mac computers.
Male Narrator: And we call it M1.
Female Narrator: These sorts of chips can be used in cars in a number of different ways, but they’re specifically very important to autonomous driving, explained Armando Periera. He brings together tech and auto companies working on self-driving cars.
Armando Periera: When we talk about computing, we’re talking about how can we squeeze all of these down to a chip that is powerful enough to run everything in parallel. So you can not steer now and forget about the brakes or engine control. You have to do all of these things simultaneously.
Female Narrator: Chips that power everything from collision warnings to touchscreens and self-driving features are in such high demand that car makers have had to suspend production and furlough tens of thousands of workers over recent shortages. Apple’s new chip production sets itself up as a major player amongst industry giants like Intel, Qualcomm and Nvidia.
Danny Shapiro: Of course, there’s the chips that do the data processing, but just having a chip in the car isn’t enough. There’s actually a mass amount of software that needs to be in place.
Female Narrator: Danny Shapiro leads marketing for Nvidia’s automotive business, which makes chips and software to process data for hundreds of car makers today, including Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, and Chinese EV makers Nio, XPeng and Li Auto.
Danny Shapiro: And so we’ve created a whole platform. It’s called Drive. And that is the heart of the cars, really the brain of the cars as well. So everything plugs into this brain. So you have cameras that are looking forward or on the sides or in the back, there’s RADAR, there’s LiDAR, which is laser scanning. So all different senses.
Female Narrator: Nvidia’s autonomous drive platform is a decade in the making. And we don’t know much about Apple’s autonomous ambitions, but CEO, Tim Cook, said they were working on autonomous systems a few years ago.
Tim Cook: We’re focusing on autonomous systems. And clearly, one purpose of autonomous systems is self-driving cars. There are others.
Female Narrator: A big part of autonomous or self-driving technology relies on cameras, RADAR and other sensors to analyze what’s going on around the car. A lot of the self-driving cars in development today use LiDAR, or Light Detection and Ranging technology. It’s like RADAR, but instead of using radio waves, it measures distances using lasers. Apple has LiDAR scanners or cameras built into its iPad Pro and iPhone 12 Pro, enabling augmented reality features like seeing how furniture would look in your room before buying it. Put that technology on a car, and you get a comprehensive look at the roads around you.
Building a car is in many ways more complicated than building an iPhone. So even if Apple has the component knowledge, why would it even want to enter the auto industry? We asked Gene Munster, an analyst that’s been covering Apple for years.
Gene Munster: We spend a lot of time in cars, and Apple wants to create products that their mission is products that enrich our lives, and a big part of our time is spent moving around.
Female Narrator: Plus, Apple has a history of revolutionizing products. Remember Nokia phones or BlackBerrys and iPods.
Steve Jobs: These are not three separate devices. This is one device, and we are calling it iPhone.
Female Narrator: And the Apple brand is already part of the driving experience. CarPlay, which brings key Apple features like maps, music and messages to your dashboard, has become a major selling point for cars. One survey found that 84% of people aware of CarPlay wanted to have the system in their next vehicle. It wouldn’t be too hard to imagine Apple using a large iPad-size screen for the dash of a car that’s running its own software. And like the iPad and iPhone, cars are now increasingly dependent on software updates. If our experiment of turning an iPhone into a car taught us anything, it was that it certainly be a massive undertaking for the company. And despite having the cash in DNA for it, that doesn’t mean Apple will speed in by building the whole car or even releasing an Apple branded car.
Gene Munster: A lesson I learned a long time ago, which because Apple is working on something doesn’t mean it’s gonna see the light of day. I long prophesied that Apple would come out with a TV and was wrong.
Female Narrator: Apple doesn’t comment on rumors, but we can say with 100% certainty, if there’s an Apple car it will not look like this. And for now, this might be the closest we get to an Apple Car.