The Apple Car may be a me-too product, but that’s what Apple does best

My colleague Zac wryly observed that the Apple Car has been four years away for nearly nine years now, following a report suggesting it will go on sale “as soon as 2028.”

That report also suggested that Apple has massively downgraded its ambitions, to something on a par with a Tesla, leading to critics referring to it as a “me too” product …

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Disappointing but not surprising

Bloomberg reports that Apple has given up on its vision of a true autonomous car in favor of Tesla-like; that is, a car which is capable of driving itself some of the time on some roads.

Apple has been working on autonomous driving technology for almost a decade at this point, but has had to confront the reality of its vision of a car without a steering wheel is unrealistic. 

Bloomberg says the 2028 car will offer limited autonomy features in line with what is offered by other electric vehicle manufacturers like Tesla. The Apple car will require drivers pay attention and be ready to take over, as the car drives itself on roads and highways, similar to the current Tesla Autopilot system. This will represent a Level 2+ system; originally Project Titan was aiming for Level 4.

The report says that even some Apple insiders are seeing the revised plan as a disappointing “me too” product, with nothing to differentiate it from a Tesla.

I agree that it is disappointing, if true, as what many of us are really hoping for is a car we can get into, select our destination, and then kick back and read a book until we get there.

But while it may be disappointing, I don’t think it’s surprising. Tesla has been promising Full Self-Driving in 1-2 years for so long that it’s become a running joke. The difference between technology which can safely drive a car much of the time and tech which can drive a car all of the time is absolutely massive.

And it’s not just about the tech, but also legislation. It will likely be years between a car technically capable of fully autonomous driving and legislators and insurers signing off on it.

“Me too” products is actually what Apple does best

But I don’t think we should care if it’s technically a “me too” product – because that’s exactly how Apple has made its name, and exactly what the company does best.

Apple didn’t make the first personal computer (not even with the Apple I). Even when the true PC era arrived, Apple wasn’t first; instead, it made the best.

Same with the iPod. There were plenty of mp3 players around before it was launched, but the iPod was just massively better than any of them.

Likewise the iPhone. Apple didn’t invent the device, it instead made the first smartphone that mass-market consumers would want to buy.

Ditto the iPad. Apple again turned a clunky and geeky device into a beautifully sleek and usable consumer product.

The Apple Watch too. Smartwatches arguably have a history dating back to 1982, but it was again Apple who made the version which quickly came to dominate the market.

And, yep, Vision Pro. There were VR headsets around years earlier, and there were more powerful AR/VR ones too. But it’s Apple which is generating the buzz, and Apple which will likely transform an early niche device into a later mass-market product.

So sure, an Apple Car won’t be the first somewhat-autonomous electric car, but it would be foolish to dismiss it as an irrelevance. At the very least, it’s going to take a lot of Tesla’s market. At most, it’s going to dominate the premium automotive market.

Photo by Jakob Rosen on Unsplash

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