At last count, the roster of tech companies currently developing some sort of self-driving car, or the underlying technology to run one, includes Google, Uber, Tesla, and Lyft, in addition to blue-chip car manufacturers like Ford and GM. But we respectfully remove Apple from that list, even though the iPhone and iPad wizards have received permits to test self-driving cars and had entered negotiations to buy McLaren Automotive to build their robot cars of the future. But rumors that Apple was shutting down parts of the program are now confirmed in a New York Times report that Apple is abandoning its autonomous vehicle plans.
Well, not completely abandoning the plans the Times notes that Apple is still working on an autonomous internal employee shuttle to ferry its workforce around their new Cupertino headquarters and between several other spaces they're occupying around the South Bay. And who knows, maybe that tech shuttle technology will be made commercially available to other companies someday. But if it’s just an employee shuttle, well, that is not going to revolutionize travel as we know it.
And analysts had expected something revolutionary, with Apple’s ability to experiment as the most profitable company in the world. The Times notes there were some cool ideas in the works, like globe-shaped wheels, adding augmented reality into interior displays, and the reinvention of cars to not have steering wheels or gas pedals.
But whether because of internal infighting, lack of a focused vision, or cost overruns, Apple’s self-driving car project went off the rails. “The car project ran into trouble, said the five people familiar with it, dogged by its size and by the lack of a clearly defined vision of what Apple wanted in a vehicle,” writes the Times.
Apple can afford to gracefully bow out before the robot car competition begins in earnest, but it’s still somewhat problematic for the company that hasn’t had a new hit product in years. Sure, the iPhone revolutionized mobile and digital communications ten years ago, and every new annual upgrade does indeed fly off the shelves. But iPhone and iPad upgrades are seeing diminishing returns, and half of the Apple Watch owners I know are Apple employees. And not even those people have Apple TV. If Apple wants to remain the most profitable company in the world, they’re going to need at least one more thing.