Apple’s September 9 product fest in San Francisco showed the extent to which it’s still a smart phone company in a maturing market in need of finding the next big thing—an iPhone equivalent.
The iPhone is arguably the most successful product ever in the history of business.
So what do you, can you do for an encore?
How about an Apple car as the ultimate mobile device and peripheral for the smart phone, tablet, laptop, watch or whatever?
Well, it’s in the works along with parallel initiatives from Google, Uber, Tesla and the Chinese internet giants, the BATs <Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent>—all racing, with or without the legacy motor manufactuers, to develop a new generation of fully autonomous, e- cars fit for the age of the mobile internet, the Cloud, and the augmented reality demands of the millennial generation with its giant sense of self and manic connectivity.
The motor business is a pretty lousy as is—rattling with overcapacity, probably passed ‘peak’ demand in the US, Europe and Japan, and eats cash, just ask Tesla, like a giant tape worm.
This latter no problem for Apple. It’s is probably the greatest generator of ‘free cash’ there’s ever been and at the last count had over $200 billion net cash on its balance sheet.
Turning to Google, a big, big threat to Apple and not just in future cars. It’s scarcely short of readies either with $60 billion net cash. Google is the legendary pioneer of the totally ‘self-drive’, robot car and is way ahead of the curve when it comes to AI and robotics. It’s almost certainly poised to enter the mainstream motor market itself, perhaps via robot car taxi services.
Then there’s Uber as well, which has commandeered much of the Carngie-Mellon robotics and electronics faculty to develop a robot taxi.
When it comes to the vast Chinese car market, now the biggest in the world,the Chinese internet giants, the BATs all have car projects underway in cahoots with State-owned motor companies. They are ‘National Champions’ backed by the Party-State and thus with lakes of ‘patience money’ on tap and protected by State orchestrated blocks against foreign competitors. Tesla has already run into such blocks.
Clearly, the legacy motor makers—the BMWs and Fords of the world– face gathering and compounding ‘disruptive forces’ every which way.
Shortly before he died, Steve Jobs told John Markof of the New York Times that if he’d had more energy he’d like to have ‘taken on Detroit.’’
Tim Cook’s took up the mantle and the ‘top secret’ but deliberately and selectively ‘leaky’ Project Titan is now well underway having burgled scarce talent wholesale from, eg, Tesla, Fiat-Chrysler and leading battery companies, and has signed up Paul Furgale from the leading edge Autonomous Systems Lab at ETH Zurich. Apple has done a huge amount of due diligence on the fine details BMW’s i3 e-car but has backed away from a join project.
Project Titan is all about bringing the ultimate all electric, fully autonomous mobile device to market: maybe as something you subscribe to rather than buy and/or summon 24/7 from a fleet of autonomous pods . This latter fits in with the growing evidence that urban millennials, and 70% of the world’s population will be urban by 2030, see little sense in owning a costly item with over 90% downtime which is expensive to maintain, tax and insure if fleets of robot vehicles are on permanent call.
A couple of years back, Cook talking about TV said ‘’when I go into may living room and turn on the TV, I feel like I’ve gone backwards in time by 20 or 30 years.’’ On September 9 Apple announced that it’s driving to turn TV into ‘an app.’
Substitute ‘car’ for TV, and you have the base case for the Apple car, and maybe for the Dyson car as well.
A huge revolution is brewing with abundant opportunties and multiple pitfalls for investors.