To Understand Why Apple is Making a Car, Just Look at the iPhone


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Why would Apple make a car? 

It’s a reasonable question. Sure, Apple has made some pretty revolutionary products in its history, but a car is an entirely different product to manufacture than, say, an iPhone or a Mac. Apple has no experience at all designing or building most of what goes into an automobile. It’s hard to see how it would compete against established car-makers like General Motors and Ford, not to mention Tesla–which has an enormous head start in both electric vehicles and self-driving capabilities. 

The iPhone, however, is actually a very good way to think about Apple’s venture into building a self-driving vehicle. When it was introduced, Apple had no experience building mobile phones. 

Famously, Palm’s CEO at the time, Ed Colligan once said of Apple’s chances at delivering a successful smartphone: 

“We’ve learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone. PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They’re not going to just walk in.”

As we all know now, Colligan was embarrassingly wrong–the iPhone is maybe the most successful product ever sold–but he wasn’t the only one. From the outside, building a smartphone made very little sense for a company whose most popular product at the time was a small music player with a click wheel. 

The problem is that people couldn’t think past the preconceived notions of what they thought a smartphone was. It didn’t help that the company’s first attempt was a partnership with Motorola that resulted in the Rokr, also known as the “iTunes Phone.” It was basically just a branded version of a device Motorola was already selling, with some software from Apple. Mostly, it was just bad.

It’s impossible to know what you don’t know. It’s also difficult to really understand something you haven’t seen or experienced. If it doesn’t exist yet, you can’t have experienced it, making it hard to understand. 

The Apple Car is similar. 

Apple isn’t trying to make just another car–or even a better car. It’s trying to make the thing that will redefine what we mean by “car,” in the same way the iPhone has completely redefined what we think of when we say “phone.” 

This is why it’s so hard to grasp why Apple would…