The iCar is going to be just another set of wheels after all, including the one for steering.
Apple (AAPL) has reportedly delayed the launch of its electric vehicle until 2026, 12 years after the iPhone maker started development with ambitious plans to revolutionize the auto industry.
Whenever the long-heralded Apple car arrives, the debut model probably won't autonomously ferry you and your family past stunning vistas in a glass bubble while you sit around its edges facing each other's iPhones. That was the prior vision, and it proved a little too far ahead of its time.
The Apple car you may in fact be able to buy within four years is now likely to come with a boring old steering wheel (and gas and brake pedals) just like all the other cars, and will confine its initial autonomous driving to the highway. It will do all this for under $100,000 per vehicle, too, in line with competitors including Tesla (TSLA) and Mercedes Benz.
- Apple has abandoned radical design changes for an electric vehicle it aims to launch by 2026.
- The Apple car will initially provide autonomous driving on highways only, retaining the steering wheel and other driver controls.
- The company is aiming to price the car below $100,000 to compete with rivals including Tesla and other automakers.
- Apple's autonomous driving technology has encountered difficulties common in the industry, reportedly nearly causing one of its test cars to hit a jogger earlier this year.
- Expansion into autos presents a vast opportunity and a big risk for the technology giant.
Apple's downsized ambition reflects its car program's erratic recent progress. Earlier this year, a vehicle testing the company's autonomous driving technology reportedly almost hit a jogger, avoiding doing so only thanks to intervention by its human backup driver. The technology, which uses radar and lidar in addition to cameras but does not rely on preloaded maps, has also reportedly had trouble navigating streets near Apple's campus.
Apple isn't the first developer of autopilot software to encounter such difficulties in delivering on the technology's promise. Tesla and CEO Elon Musk have long faced criticism over their claims about how well Teslas can find their way without driver intervention. Alphabet's (GOOG, GOOGL) Waymo has repeatedly scaled back plans to expand its commercial service providing driverless rides beyond the Phoenix metro area.
Apple's revised plans reveal a growing acceptance of other realities as well. Talks to co-produce the Apple car with Hyundai failed last year, perhaps reflecting the difficulty of striking a mutually rewarding deal with any potential competitor.
As a result, Apple now plans to produce a car on its own, with the target date recently slipping a year to 2026. While a practical, competitively priced Apple car will certainly sell, a venture of this magnitude also carries plenty of risk, even for the world's most valuable company. And not all of the risk concerns the required heavy investment. One key question: If Apple won't redefine the car, will the iCar redefine Apple in a way the company will welcome?
If the car is a runaway hit, it's easy to see how it might supplant the iPhone as a services platform. A dud, by contrast, would damage Apple's valuable brand. The company will face competition for battery components and materials as well as drivers' loyalty. Apple is counting on its knack for making technology user-friendly to smooth its entry into a new and already crowded industry.