There’s been a lot of talk and very little action when it comes to Apple’s rumoured
car project. And maybe that’s not so surprising.
The car business is a difficult one to break into and prosper in. It’s an incredibly complicated, expensive product that takes a long time to develop. The risks are high, the margins low and you have to spend a fortune before earning a penny of profit.
Sure, Apple has the financial muscle. That isn’t in doubt. But this isn’t a company that’s in the habit of chucking its money around just because it can.
In all the years of rumours about an upcoming Apple car, several manufacturers have been discussed as potential partners for the company to share the risk with. Early this year, there was
talk of Kia/Hyundai (talk which was later
quashed). Later in the year,
Foxconn’s car platform seemed like a reasonable foundation for Apple to build on.
However, Apple’s tradition of wanting to control the product from conception to the customer’s doorstep is said to have
complicated the negotiations.
There’s one obvious role model for Apple to emulate in this industry. In just over a decade the firm has managed to electrify and digitise cars and car ownership, streamline production and launch something that is at least beginning to resemble a plausible self-driving car for consumers. We’re talking, of course, about Tesla.
It took a decade of toil, and the company came very close to bankruptcy. Tesla is finally in a position where it is getting more orders than it can fulfil and the margins are looking healthy. But success was never a foregone conclusion.
Several exciting changes are currently happening in the car industry, including electrification, digitisation and autonomous driving. Such big changes open the door for dinosaurs to be killed off and new players to take their place, but the new rules of the game are unpredictable.
Which makes it nothing short of shocking that the Tim Cook we all know, the capable steward so fond of high margins and full control over the entire chain, would want to enter such an industry.
But Apple doesn’t need to enter it at all. If the company is looking for new areas to make money in, there are other industries that could provide more, and safer, bang for its buck.
Take healthcare and medicine, for example.
A healthier project
Medical equipment is often expensive, and many devices intended for personal use could benefit from a little more user-centric design. At the same time, there is potential to put more medical devices in the hands of individuals.
Imagine that instead of going for a physical examination at your doctor’s office once every ten years, a number of data points are measured every day. You don’t have to look at the numbers every hour and stress about it: the data is far more useful when collected over time to show positive and negative trends. And it’s much better than getting a shock once a decade.
Putting a non-invasive, easy-to-use blood glucose meter in each person’s hands could do a lot for the quality of life of diabetes patients. The product and platform to deliver the technology already exists: the
And, of course, it doesn’t stop at blood glucose meters. If Apple can popularise otherwise hard-to-find medical devices, it has a lot to gain.
From a public health perspective, too, there are many potential benefits. Apple itself mentioned in a patent application for a non-invasive blood glucose meter that the cost to society of type 2 diabetes was $825bn a year in the US.
Perhaps the strongest sign of all is that even Tim Cook himself has said that health and medicine are very exciting areas… but, as usual, without revealing any specific plans.
Pick the low-hanging fruit
The privately owned car has long been viewed as the ultimate consumer status symbol, for its cost and aspirational qualities. Not to mention its surprising emotional resonance: most of us remember our first car. But the market is difficult to navigate, complicated and challenging from a technical, political and environmental perspective.
Medicine as a consumer product is territory that has been less thoroughly explored. And there are likely to be good margins for Apple to take advantage of, when advanced technology that was previously too expensive for the mainstream market is made available to more people.
Years of speculation about the Apple Car’s existence or non-existence will not end here. But it is clear to me, when speculating about which products will account for Apple’s growth in the next ten years, that there are better product categories to focus on than the near-impossible car business.
Cars are a glittering prize. But there’s lower-hanging fruit that Apple should be picking – fruit that will be a healthier choice for all of us.
Different Think is a weekly column, published every Tuesday, in which Macworld writers expose their less mainstream opinions to public scrutiny. We’ve
defended the notch, argued that
Tim Cook is a better CEO than Steve Jobs, and called Apple TV+ a
disaster movie without a happy ending. This article originally appeared on
Macworld Sweden; translation (using
DeepL) by David Price.