If Apple builds a car, that's big news. But this is even bigger

Written by David Shapton

RedSharkWhat Apple did next

It's just possible that Apple's plans go way beyond making cars...

This is a bit off topic but in an unfanatical way we like to keep track of developments at Apple, and this seems like a big one. You'll have heard about it already. Apple, it seems, is getting into the car business. Not just putting iPads in dashboards, but actually making cars.

That seems like important news, so let's try to refine it. These are, after all, only rumours. But if this is true, what might follow is even bigger news. We'll come to that in a minute.

The minimum this could mean is that Apple is actually trying to get into car electronics and computing systems. With all due respect to existing car manufacturers, the level of computing in cars is lamentable. It's getting better, of course, but you can't help feeling that it's always several years behind the latest developments in (for example) Android or anything from the Apple ecosystem.

Definitely time for a change.

Some commentators have suggested that Apple will buy Tesla, which makes electric cars that seem years ahead of the competition. That wouldn't be cheap, and nor would the results really be "Apple Cars", although in the unlikely event of that happening, you can bet that some automotive equivalent of Jonny Ive would change the look of them completely. But surely it would be cheaper and probably just as effective in the long term for Apple to poach or cajole Tesla employees to move across?

If Apple is designing a car, it is going to be in it for the long game. Which means that it is not designing it for now, but for what the world will be like in seven to ten years. And with exponential technology, you can bet it's going to be very different.

So it will probably be driverless, and it will most likely run on electricity. This is where the big news comes (if we're right about this). Because the big news is not that Apple is building an electric car, but that Apple is going to become an energy provider.

It's maybe even obvious when you think about it.

Apple is now (whether entirely of its own volition or to appease its shareholders) a very green company, at least on the surface. None of its data centres, nor its new Cupertino headquarters, will use conventionally sourced power. Apple has solar PV plants in multiple locations and it is clear that this is something it wants to grow.

Trojan horse

I think they will use the car project as a Trojan horse to get a dominant share of the US energy market, and the way they will do it is by providing a network of charging stations for the cars, powered by their own renewable energy resources. Apple car owners will have proprietary connectors to the charging points. Owners will only be able to buy Apple electricity. No fossil fuels will be used in the fueling of Apple cars.

To do this, Apple will need massive solar farms - but not as massive as you'd think. If we're looking ten years in the future, that's plenty of time for photovoltaic technology to improve around fifty-fold, because PV is on Moore's law. So what would take fifty acres of solar cells today would need only one by the time the network was rolled out.

The snag, of course, with renewables is that when it's dark, or when it's not windy, you don't get any power, and the answer to that is batteries. As Tesla has shown, batteries are everything to an electric car business plan. That's why they're building their GigaFactory to make future-generation batteries.

Batteries are unfortunately not on Moore's law, but they are improving. There's nothing to stop Apple building their own Gigafactory, and once the batteries are in production, they could use them for anything. Other commentators have suggested that Tesla could sell batteries to house owners so that they could keep their kettles boiling at night. Apple could do this as well.

Could Apple become an energy provider? It fits perfectly with their green aspirations. Making cars is a clever way to lock people into their green electricity network. But it's not easy to become the equivalent of an energy utility company.

That didn't stop Apple making a telephone, which has become one of the most successful, and most disruptive products in history. How did they bring out a phone that was so far ahead of everyone else? By looking ahead about seven or ten years.

Tags: Technology

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