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Apple Scales Back Its Ambitions for a Self-Driving Car (nytimes.com)
272 points by fmihaila on Aug 23, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 419 comments



“From the beginning, the employees dedicated to Project Titan looked at a wide range of details. That included motorized doors that opened and closed silently. They also studied ways to redesign a car interior without a steering wheel or gas pedals, and they worked on adding virtual or augmented reality into interior displays.

The team also worked on a new light and ranging detection sensor, also known as lidar. Lidar sensors normally protrude from the top of a car like a spinning cone and are essential in driverless cars. Apple, as always focused on clean designs, wanted to do away with the awkward cone.

Apple even looked into reinventing the wheel. A team within Titan investigated the possibility of using spherical wheels — round like a globe — instead of the traditional, round ones, because spherical wheels could allow the car better lateral movement.”

Very interesting, and one heck of a leak if true.


This so reminds me of the discussion about fire from the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy.

The challenge of a self driving car is to get it to drive by itself, not to try to make it look good and to solve a whole pile of engineering problems that have had everybody in engineering looking at them since as long as we have the profession.

Making gadgets and making a self driving car require a different mind-set. The first is an exercise in consumer packaging, the second is a serious endeavor in engineering something tremendously difficult from the ground up.

What the vehicle looks like is not important at this stage, what is important is whether it can be done at all with sufficient reliability to let it out of the lab and into the mass market.

When someone seriously suggests to 'reinvent the wheel' it is time to re-focus.


Yes and no. Part of doing a technology leap is getting people to dream. There are always rough edges associated with the new technology, and in those times, it's nice to be able to still enjoy the dream.

As an example, consider the transition from MacOS 9 -> Mac OS X (public beta days). The tough challenge was what's below the hood, the new UNIX foundation, the NeXTStep APIs, being able to mitigate the conversion pain, etc. Yet in the midst of all these challenges, they added Aqua: an ambitious, over-the-top UI. Was it overkill? Yes. Did it get scaled back? Yes. Did it impact performance? Heck yeah it did. But it did one thing very well: it got people to dream of a (literally) shiny new Operating System. In the moments when Mail.app would get stuck or when one felt the absence of many Classic features, seeing the shiny OS helped sugar-coat the transition and from a UX perspective, it helped people stick with it until the bugs got ironed out.


True, but in this case it's a sugar coating without any cake below it.


[citation needed] — how do you know what Apple has or doesn’t have? People are making assumptions based on leaks — leaks, that wouldn’t surprise me if they were actually coordinated and on purpose designed to mislead the media.

Five random Titan engineers wouldn’t just start talking to the Times. Not if they wanted to stay working at Apple. So it makes you wonder if their “leaking” is designed to mislead.


That is, of course, at least partially true.

However, in the OSX analogy above, Apple had a very good platform (NeXTSTEP) that had been commercially available and proven in real-world use for ~a decade before they started modifying it to become OSX. There is no similarly mature self-driving car platform for them to be working from, and we can be sure of that.


Hah, yes. Glad to see others were weirded out by that too. It's so strange to see people seriously discussing how to redesign the trimmings, when nobody even has an existence proof that fully autonomous navigation _is even possible!_

And it's not like robotics research hasn't been working on this problem for half a century now. It's a hell of a hard problem that one can't just product-design their way out of.


I see the Waymo cars puttering around. The existence proof is there.


Apple often tries to re-engineer the thing they develop.from the ground up. Seems it started this way on Titan, too, then scaled back and decided to focus on the main problem: safely getting around. Nothing wrong with this I think.

On reinvented wheels, early ideas rejected today may get a second life later, e.g. spherical wheels for moving in very constrained environments.


It is absolutely fine to re-engineer something from the ground up once you have a working example in your hand. But before then you are simply wasting your time.

the iPod was not the first music player, the iPhone not the first smartphone. Re-engineering those was the only way to get them to market in a way that might drive mass adoption.

As for the spherical wheels, yes, however such a development is totally tangential (pun intended) to self driving cars.


> But before then you are simply wasting your time.

I disagree. You seem to be discounting the learning aspect. Building an institutional knowledge base of the pile of systems that make up a car is a large task by itself. Different shops approach it differently. One may obsessively reverse engineer the competition, another might tinker with longtime designs.

I fully expect the managers in question saw the spherical wheels as something with maybe a 2% chance of becoming a reality, if that. The point at that stage is not to take a particular design to market, it is to explore the problem space, develop expertise, and work out what strategy to pursue.

From this article, it sounds like they figured out the strategy.


2%? How about 0.0002%.


0


I can't see spherical wheels working well. They would have a smaller contact patch on the road surface than a standard wheel, and consequently less traction.


And then there is stronger braking to be considered, which almost always is some kind of disk brake which you can't do if there is no shaft to mount one on. Which means the spherical wheel system would have to be oversized to compensate for lack of such a shaft even if it would work to drive the car. Magnetic wheels have other interesting problems that would need to be solved such as when two cars get close to each other the wheels would start to attract or repulse depending on their orientation.

This is mostly likely not something that could be rolled out even in a concept car with present day technology unless there is some kind of trick that I'm not aware of. Halbach arrays are not without problems if you allow them to be unconstrained in all dimensions.


If they are too big then the car will only have room for two: one in the front and one in the back.

TaDa: the self driving Tron motorcycle!


Could you just use standard wheels, but let all four of them turn 90 degrees? Then the car could move laterally.


There are some cars that already do this.

It's a lot simpler with independent electric motors per wheel, but generally not that useful as self drivings cars can already parallel park just fine.


You only need one wheel to turn very tightly:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YlLZE23EJKs


[flagged]


That's true. But then again, I did come up with live streaming video on the web and some other lesser known bits and pieces of technology. And I'd argue my lego sorting machine also required plenty of creative thinking.


There are definitely major challenges, although maybe those could work in areas where the motion is slow but constrained (e.g., a cart to move cars in/out/around a dedicated parking lot). Maybe flatten the surface used for normal motion and use sides for infrequent, slow maneuvers. I do not know.

But those ideas are tangential (being generous) to self-driving, so better not steal cycles from it.


Plus the whole sphere and its housing is going to take up a lot of volume.


Here's a link to the relevant HHGTTG quote: https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/The_Hitchhiker%27s_Guide_to_th...


Whenever Apple introduces a new product line, they do so with a major usability innovation. In fact their major new lines often have several usability innovations, that work together.

The iPod had click wheel. The Mac had the GUI. The Apple II was plug-and-play in a time when people built from scratch. The iPhone had multi-touch the Apple Watch had a bunch of stuff.

The challenge is not to solve an already solved problem.

Remember when the iPhone was introduced? It's obvious now it was quite revolutionary-- but at the time people complained that it wasn't anything significant and that lacking a keyboard meant it was doomed to failure.

If apple introduced a self driving Camry it would not really be compelling enough. For a new product category, Apple's only interested if they can create or redefine the category.

It's worked out pretty well so far.


What if 'self-driving' was just one possible feature among many in a potential Apple car and wasn't necessary? I'd happily buy an apple electric car that I had to drive myself.


> I'd happily buy an apple electric car that I had to drive myself.

How could you say that without knowing anything about such a car?

Is the brand enough to get you to buy something?


When your customers have this sort of attitude it's no wonder Apple managed to convince themselves this was worthwhile.


You're shitting on the project without knowing anything about it yourself... but you ask how he can be interested without knowing details?

And yes, the brand-- which is to say, their 40 year history of delivering products at a level of quality and innovation unmatched by any company in the world-- is enough to be interested in anything they produce.


They definitely should have not wasted time with multitouch and just used a stylus and a physical keyboard for iPhone. Right? Any time someone says “no stylus” it’s time to refocus right? After all, that just isn’t how portable devices in 2002 already worked?

Apple doesn’t care about incremental improvements when talking about a new product category. They look to leapfrog. Have you considered the benefit of spherical wheels? I haven’t, but I am not part of that project.

Incrementalism would have been making a better Apple Newton or a prettier Palm Treo. Or a slightly better Tesla. Why bother entering the car market if you’re just going to marginally compete with everyone else?

It seems like you don’t get Apple or their history of product development.


> It seems like you don’t get Apple or their history of product development.

I get it just fine. They are improved user interfaces over things that already existed. Changing the main method of transfer of energy from the motor to the road in a vehicle is a fundamental change that has significant implications for everything else in the vehicle to the point of making it very unlikely that that vehicle will ever be completed.

People would not buy a car with spherical wheels for the 'cool factor' they would not buy it because it is untested technology with significant implications for the safety of the occupants and others on the road.

> Apple doesn’t care about incremental improvements when talking about a new product category.

Well, what is a leapfrog to you looks suspiciously like an incremental improvement to me. There were some phones that had a fair amount of resemblance to the iPhone before it launched and the iPod had a large number of predecessors as well. And without iPod no iPhone.

Arguably the iPhone could have been a success without multitouch, it's perfectly possible not to have multitouch and at the same time not to have stylus and not to have a keyboard.

As for the benefit of spherical wheels, yes, I can see some benefits, but I can also see significant drawbacks that are not easily engineered away.

A car is a device on an entirely different plane than a phone, the only time your life depends on your phone is when you're trying to call 911 after an accident, with a car you (and the people on the road around you) depend on your car from the moment you get into it until you disembark. That requires a more conservative kind of development.

Such as Tesla is showing, and which they occasionally get wrong, usually when they release stuff that isn't quite as reliable as it should be for mass deployment.


> They are improved user interfaces over things that already existed.

This is the lie every Apple hater tells themselves to reconcile their hate with the fact that Apple keeps inventing things never before seen.


They also tend to qualify it as "refinement" instead of "invention" because their definition of "innovation" can't include Apple for some dogmatic reason.


Great analogy. Anything seems impossible before its done, and obvious 5-10 years after it's done.


Usually about a year after Apple's competitors have introduced a pale imitation, the haters will say it was always obvious.

I once had someone on here tell me that Apple invented nothing for the iPhone because the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey "invented multitouch".


>The challenge of a self driving car is to get it to drive by itself, not to try to make it look good and to solve a whole pile of engineering problems that have had everybody in engineering looking at them since as long as we have the profession.

This is why I believe that comma.ai was so visionary, say whatever you want about George Hotz's personality. He truly _gets it_ that self-driving is the critical part, not the car.


"Visionary"? Hardly. His self driving technology was basically a big giant hack. He is a good hacker but calling him "visionary" is a bit of a stretch.


From my perspective, the vision was in truly understanding that the value-add is centered around "self-driving" more so than "cars."


A giant hack that works and already out on the streets.

I think commaai has a very bright future.


Supernova's have a bright future too. But a very short one.

Comma one has been canceled and the new offering is more along the lines of a kit for DIY car hackers than for serious deployment and at a guess if you would be involved in an accident while deploying one of these kits your insurance would be void.


comma was a scam. The car Hotz used for his "demonstration" already comes with the functionality he "demonstrated" from the factory. He just added wires and a joystick to his dashboard.


Out of curiosity... could you let me know how you came to this conclusion?


Agreed. It seems like a great deal of engineering distractions from the core problem to solve. Seems like they were using precious resources to fluff up a potential keynote and make a car from a scifi movie.


>When someone seriously suggests to 'reinvent the wheel' it is time to re-focus.

Goodyear released spherical wheels. It's not that stupid at all to reinvent the wheel, sometimes: https://www.sciencealert.com/watch-goodyear-unveils-the-futu...


You're missing my point. It may not be stupid to reinvent the wheel at all. But that's not a project that you should mix with inventing a self driving car unless you conclude that spherical wheels are the only way a self driving car will ever become a reality.

Similar to how every software application project could theoretically result in a new database, a new operating system and if you really want to go all out a new CPU it is much more efficient to concentrate on your application if you actually want to see it go to market.

> Goodyear released spherical wheels.

No, they didn't, that's just some fancy CG stuff, not an actual product.

Also, it just so happens that Good Year is in the wheels-and-tires business so for them such research makes good sense, and of course it is a theory of a concept, not an actual proof of concept much less something that they are ready to roll out. It's more like serious science fiction even than actual science, it's how things maybe could work, not how they actually work.


>You're missing my point. It may not be stupid to reinvent the wheel at all. But that's not a project that you should mix with inventing a self driving car

That's only true if the team that reinvents the wheels and the team that does the self-driving tech is the same, and you're stealing members from the latter to the former.

Obviously those are not the same teams, nor they need to be.

And when you get out with your self-driving car, as 3-4 companies will do at more or less the same time or within a few years of each other, having other great new innovations on top of that will give you an edge.


The degree to which globular wheels would complicate such a design is such that it would leave you being passed by your competitors right out of the gate, on top of that it would complicate all kinds of things such as certification and potentially reliability and safety as well as supply chain issues after delivery.

Solving too much is a fantastic way to crash a project.


>The degree to which globular wheels would complicate such a design is such that it would leave you being passed by your competitors right out of the gate

We don't know that. We just know that we're not familiar with them. If anything, globular wheels could make some kind of automated steering easier.

And of course, it's obviously not like Apple only tried that design: they tried globular wheels, fat wheels, thinner wheels, wooden wheels, and what have you to see what works better -- like they did when they designed the iPhone, etc.

https://www.cultofmac.com/181782/every-iphone-prototype-appl...

https://www.theverge.com/2017/1/6/14188624/apple-prototype-i...


> tried globular wheels, fat wheels, thinner wheels, wooden wheels, and what have you to see what works better

Yes, and 'standard wheels' would have saved them time, money and other resources and would have increased the chances of bringing a self driving car to market.


>Yes, and 'standard wheels' would have saved them time, money and other resources

Time from what? It's not some team considering other kinds of wheels was holding back their self-driving researchers...

You seem to have an overly linear and heavy-first concept of how such a development should go.


> Time from what?

Time from focusing on the bit that mattered. Anyway, the article linked underscores my point far better than I'm able to do.


I wonder if replacement spherical wheels for a 10-year-old car would be available. Would they even make studded spherical wheels for winter?


They made a little PR thing. That's far from "releasing" anything.


Seems like they were biting off way more than they could chew.

If Apple partnered with an existing car company to apply their design principles on top of an existing car platform (e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiat_Mini_platform ) they could see a lot of success if they weren't too ambitious. They wouldn't win if they tried to reinvent the wheel because there would be far too big of a chance of either taking 10 years to build nothing or for building something that ended up being overly strange (e.g. Segway)

Build a car that was familiar built out with quality materials and an iOS dash interface and you'd sell like hotcakes.


We have the iPhone because Apple was so ambitious. Imagine if they had just partnered with existing phone manufacturers rather than trying to build a magic touch slate.

Wait, we do know what would have happened - the Motorola ROKR, which everyone should be forgiven for forgetting.


> We have the iPhone because Apple was so ambitious.

When you say that, you conventiently forget that Apple re-invented the smartphone. It was an proven thing, which already sold in spades in the tech/enterprise market.

They took something which existed and was awkward to use, and re-did the UI layer of the whole thing. They refined something else which was already proven. They didn't invent something original from scratch.

Here Apple is clearly trying to design a new kind of a car, where every part is different from what's already out there in the industry. Where none of the new bits has been invented yet.

They are trying to do original discovery in addition to refining things, in an industry where they have absolutely zero experience.

> Project Titan looked at a wide range of details. That included motorized doors that opened and closed silently .... Apple, as always focused on clean designs, wanted to do away with the awkward cone.

That they were even considered things like this important in a self-driving car when they hadn't even solved the self-driving bit (or even car-bit) yet tells me all I need to know about the realism of this project. There was none.

It was doomed from day one.


Also, the iPhone was preceded by years of producing iPods, which at least gave them expertise in portable electronics. What has Apple produced that is remotely similar to an automobile? It's not just design expertise, but the supply chain and manufacturing. Auto parts industry is massive. Is controlling the parts for a computer on the same scale as for an entire automobile? I suppose if Tesla can do it...but Tessa's cars so far don't seem as ambitious as what Project Titan was looking at.


Remember Tesla's first car? It was not the Model S. The Roadster was based on a Lotus chassis. They built a car on an existing vehicle platform before venturing into producing their own.


People claimed the iPhone was doomed-- even after it was shipping-- because Apple couldn't "just waltz in and start making phones".

Apple is not going to produce a gas automobile, but an electric one.

An electric car is a lot closer to a computer in terms of supply chain, than it is to a gas car.


>When you say that, you conventiently forget that Apple re-invented the smartphone. It was an proven thing...

That's what it looks like from the outside, but listening to interviews with current and former Apple people that's not at all how it looked from the inside.

When they initially developed the OSX derived core OS, System architecture and UI libraries they weren't thinking about phones at all. It was intended to be a tablet computer OS. It's only fairly late on in development that Jobs pivoted the team to adapt the technology to a phone form factor and tacked on a phone app and cellular radio. It was not at all developed from the starting point of looking at existing phones and going from there. Things like touch swipe to scroll and pinch to zoom were taken straight from contemporary touch UI research, not Palm or any other existing commercial products.


Interesting what-if: would the iPod touch have been significantly less irrelevant in absence of the iPhone? Could the iPad have been a success without the iPhone paving the way for apps?

I remember the last generations of high end feature phones as quite capable media consumption devices, who knows what could have come from that strain of development had they stayed in the limelight a few years longer.


iPod Touch sales were about one quarter as many as iPhone sales. That came to 100 million units in the first 6 years. Given their lower ASP that's a bit less in revenue but it's still pretty significant.

Sure, without the iPhone they'd probably have sold a lot more, but it's not a very compelling counterfactual. Palm started off selling PDAs, but a smartphone is really just a PDA with a cellular radio and a phone app. By the time the iPhone came out standalone PDAs were already dead.

I don't think it would have made a lot of difference to the iPad. It is what it is. It might have had more of a 'wow' factor rather than the 'just a big iPhone' jibes, but even so it sold, and is still selling in very large numbers. Sure sales are down, but they're still selling about 40 million a year. That's more than Dell's annual PC sales and twice as many as Apple's Mac sales, it's also one sixth of global PC sales. So bear that mind when people say it's a declining business. It's slowly declining from spectacular success.


Yup, exactly this. They have no idea how to make a self driving car so wasted time on other things hoping someone will solve the actual hard part.

It's pretty common when given an impossible project, and you need to show something.


Or you know, the have multiple teams, and they don't just want to put out a "self driving car" out, but a great self driving car that rethinks what a car should be like -- on top of "self-driving".


But does that even make sense? That would mean they redesigned something that they are not able to build in realistically at least the next 5-10 years. Or to go even further, they tried to make something better that does not exist yet. Wouldn't it make more sense to just go for the self driving car first and then, after you are sure that you can build that, creating teams which make it better?


>That would mean they redesigned something that they are not able to build in realistically at least the next 5-10 years. Or to go even further, they tried to make something better that does not exist yet.

At Apple don't do basic research and leave it at that.

They are trying to build a commercial product.

In that sense, it makes sense to try to solve the problem of self-driving along with how an Apple car should be like (besides self driving).

So that, if the self-driving research pans out, they have a complete product, not just some run-of-the-mill car design that basically sells for its self driving capability.

And even if their self-driving thing doesn't pan out, they can always enter the car market licensing some other self-driving technology (like they license/buy batteries, ssd, cpus, etc) but with their own spin on the general product.


> In that sense, it makes sense to try to solve the problem of self-driving along with how an Apple car should be like (besides self driving).

No it doesn't. Self driving takes decades to solve, designing pretty cars takes a year or two. There is an order of magnitude difference there.

They were seriously trying to constrain the location of the LIDAR before actually knowing what types and numbers of LIDAR a self driving car actually needs! That is utterly backwards.


>No it doesn't. Self driving takes decades to solve, designing pretty cars takes a year or two. There is an order of magnitude difference there.

They are not the same teams doing each, so there's no opportunity cost involved.

And whether it might or might not actually "take decades", if Apple considered it would "take decades to solve" they wouldn't be interested in it in the first place. The idea was that we are close to a breakthrough and commercial applications, not that we'll have something in the market by 2040, maybe.

So, for Apple it was more like "can we get something out in 5-10 years at most? Oh, and if it just self-drives, nobody will care -- by that time there would be 10 more self-driving cars from Google, Tesla, Audi, GM, etc. We also want it to be great/different in other aspects".

>They were seriously trying to constrain the location of the LIDAR before actually knowing what types and numbers of LIDAR a self driving car actually needs! That is utterly backwards.

There's nothing backwards about it -- given that the car will need a LIDAR (which I don't think their self-driving researchers where doubting), they should explorer the design space for placement/hiding it etc.


I'm not sure why you're arguing with the person that keeps responding to you. I think you've clearly made the point that Apple feels like they don't need to work off of existing design or technology methodologies and yet this person seems to think that Apple's entire predicted failure is that they're not working off of existing processes and technologies. He seems to be arguing a straw man of your argument rather than your actual argument and part of me feels like he's being willfully disingenuous in doing so. It's "Apple can't possibly do it different than everyone else because everyone else has only been able to do it in this one way" without any room for the possibility that the "best" (subjective, of course) solution may be one that doesn't exist yet because it requires the very paradigm shift you're referencing.


What you are suggesting is like designing how a hotel will look before you know where it will be or how big it will be.

It's completely backwards. You can kind of do it, but it's a huge waste of time and money.

Apple did not do that because they "knew what they would need, so let's get started", they did that because they had no clue how to make a self driving car, but despite that, the team needed to show something, anything.


>What you are suggesting is like designing how a hotel will look before you know where it will be or how big it will be.

Well, you know most things. You know you're making a car, you know it will have LIDAR, you know it will be self driving etc. You are free to (and if you want to win time, you pretty much got to) design the car, the interior, materials, displays, etc -- even the transmission, engine and wheels -- independently of the self-driving algorithms.

If and when those self-driving algorithms are ready, you don't then have to spend another 1 year to design the rest.

There's not any real dependency between them -- so much that you can even test your self driving algorithm in ANY random car as almost all companies do. It's not like being a self-driving car dictates the car form and the latter has to be designed around that property.

(That said, before even Google's car and the self-driving hype, a lot of rumors insisted on Apple merely making an electric iCar -- Tesla competitor, not some full self-driver type 5).

>Apple did not do that because they "knew what they would need, so let's get started", they did that because they had no clue how to make a self driving car, but despite that, the team needed to show something, anything.

I, for one, have no doubt that Apple got some top notch researchers in ML and driving car technology. I also have no doubt they got some top notch car guys (plain car). I also have no doubt that there's nothing to know about "how to make a self driving car" that the Apple team doesn't know (or any team for that matter), apart the ML/self-driving algorithm aspects. So there was nothing about the form of the car holding them back.


I don't agree with everything you said, but let's assume you are right - for the sake of the argument.

So what's the plan? Design a car, then let the designs sit on a shelf for 10 years (or more)? In 10 years tastes will change, and the people who made the designs will no longer have them fresh in their mind - if they are even still employed by Apple.

How does that make any sense?


> They took something which existed and was awkward to use

This is the key difference: people already love their cars, more than they love their home and more than they love their iPhone. The enjoyable smartphone was an unsolved problem, the enjoyable car has been comically over-solved for decades.

Everything unpleasant about cars is happening to the outside. Not just to pedestrians, cyclists and residents, but also to other drivers: just imagine how much nicer your commute would be without all the other commuters. A Lada on an open road would be more enjoyable than a Rolls Royce in a traffic jam. It's a commons problem, one that cannot be designed away with cute UI and expensive surface finishing. Even self-driving won't really solve that, as anyone who has been a passenger in gridlock should know. The only way to significantly improve transport is by making it more space-efficient by cooperation. Public transit with the Apple doover? Could be amazing, but it's just not in the Apple DNA. Autonomous cars with extreme platooning? Massive potential, but just like with public transit, the biggest benefit goes to those who refuse to cooperate and stick to individualistic reaping of the benefits of lower congestion.


> This is the key difference: people already love their cars, more than they love their home and more than they love their iPhone.

I'm part of that (seemingly ever shrinking) demographic that does indeed love cars; I love their shapes and their looks, the roar of an engine (or the thrust of an electric, both hit me in different places), but even I have to admit that people like me are going away. The vast majority of people want a way to get from point A to point B relatively quickly in some measure of comfort; they don't give a shit how cheaply the car is built, as long as it comes with a warranty and the cabin is spill proof, and they don't care how ugly or bland the outside is as long as it keeps the rain out. There's not nearly the same appreciation for cars and driving as their once was, which is why I firmly believe a lot of people these days can't drive very well nor take decent care of their cars; they don't care. Driving is a means to an end, whereas to me, driving is half the fun of doing anything.

> The enjoyable smartphone was an unsolved problem, the enjoyable car has been comically over-solved for decades.

I'd say the enjoyable car and the enjoyable smartphone (iPhone, yes I know, my opinion) have about the same market share these days. :)

I don't mean to say Apple was on to something: I think it was doomed from the start for many of the reasons listed here. I just think you're misreading the market is all. That being said, I do hope the self driving revolution leaves room for enthusiasts who truly love putting the hammer down and seeing what our machines can do; I'm willing to pay more for manual mode or even a much higher fee to continue to have a license to operate; I understand what being put into an enthusiast market means and I'm willing to put up the cash.


There is no such thing as a UI layer. UI and function are inextricably linked.

For example, see iPhone's voicemail. Or the touch screen. Or the app store. None of those things could have been executed by UI teams at any other device manufacturer at the time.


Only when you're talking about software, which is arguably the "UI layer" of a physical computing device. Hardware needs actual things which do the things, independent of interface.


when I was watching the keynote live, and Jobs swiped his finger to scroll, I audibly gasped.


Palm OS apps were using swipe to scroll for several years before that. As far back as at least 2002.

That doesn't take away from what Apple did. They really took all of the best ideas (and in many cases hired the engineers who made them in the first place) and put them into one incredibly tight and delightful package. Just about every individual feature can be traced to Palm, Symbian, or a host of other systems... but the magic is making the whole thing work.

Still, it's important to remember that the iPhone was largely a logical evolution more than something invented by Apple wholesale. The iPhone was not the first touch screen slate phone that I ever saw FWIW. That honor belongs to an internal project at Nokia (based on Series 60) that died under it's own engineering weight.

Which again is meant as a compliment to Apple. They actually were able to execute on the thing where others failed.


>> when I was watching the keynote live, and Jobs swiped his finger to scroll, I audibly gasped.

> Palm OS apps were using swipe to scroll for several years before that. As far back as at least 2002.

I don't know how good Palm OS was at that time, but the contrast between the iPhone and the rest of the industry was blinding 2007:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMzg70MIZCo


That is seriously laughable how bad that is. The parent to your comment either doesn't remember what things were like prior to the iPhone or they're intentionally ignoring the differences.


The only new thing was a capacitive touchscreen, which allowed more responsiveness to a touch input. It just came along at the right time.


That wasn't even new, it's just that no other manufacturer dared to put out a phone at $600 (that's with contract, single carrier exclusive).


Capacitive screens were less responsive than resistive screens.

The difference was that you used your physical finger instead of a stylus. Personally speaking, I preferred resistive screens for their responsiveness and accuracy.

The capacitive screen was needed for "pinch to zoom" and other gestures of the modern era. The delay in the UI compared to resistive screens (as well as the higher-CPU time required for processing) turned out to be a smaller deal than multi-touch technology.


Is there some more information on that? I believed so far (or the industry made me believe) that capacitive screens were much faster than the resistive ones.


I don't have like, hard tested data. But the delay is enough that experience was all I needed to convince me.

Nintendo DS / 3DS and Wii U are all resistive screens. I also have experience with resistive screens of Palm Pilot and Palm phones of the early 2000s. And all of those were more "responsive" than a 2007-era iPhone, despite the iPhone's significantly higher processing power.

Play a serious game like Monster Hunter (very timing intensive) and compare it to a serious timing-intensive game on a capacitive screen (I know I've seen people play Marvel vs Capcom 2 on an iPhone emulator...). The lag and delay is noticeable even in the modern era.

But people wanted multi-touch pinch to zoom. Capacitive sensing also requires a microcontroller to literally "charge up" the screen over and over.

When your finger is on the screen, it "charges up slower" (because your finger changes the capacitance at that location). Innately, that "charge and discharge" cycle requires a measurement over time.

And to make sure that power isn't wasted, only one part of the screen is often tested (there are grids and stuff that then calculate where the fingers or multiple-fingers are located). So innately, there's a delay as the "scan-lines" of the sensors test each point of the screen.

Resistive screens instantly tell you where the stylus is without any such delay or processing. So it just makes sense.


I don't have any direct links, but the latency on processing touch input from a capacitive display can be as high as 40ms, remember there is a lot of filtering going on and spurious crap that has to be filtered out.

Think how crazy the trackpad goes on a cheap laptop when you plug in a knock-off power supply with poor power conditioning.


The app store already existed for Blackberries at the time.

I'm not sure what you're talking about with voicemail.


The iPhone was the first phone with visual voicemail.


Sorry to be completely lost but what is "visual voicemail"? This is an odd term - almost as daft as "visual BASIC"


Instead of calling a number and listening to messages one by one you have an inbox and can play/delete them using a UI.


I think we've gotten so used to it we forget just how awful it used to be.


it still is... not every network is willing to pay for the back end to support it.


Well I've never had that on Android here in the UK. I still have to ring my EE voicemail and listen to messages one by one. Thanks for the info.


No. Apple invented the smartphone. There were no smart phones before the iPhone. There were PDAs and feature phones.

People like to pretend Apple never invents anything and to do so they always point at vaguely similar things that aren't nearly as good as if they support the point.

Someone one here once told me that Apple didn't invent multi-touch because it existed in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey


Apple is reinventing the car?


> When you say that, you conventiently forget that Apple re-invented the smartphone. It was an proven thing, which already sold in spades in the tech/enterprise market.

Isn't a car a proven thing? All apple is need to do is re-invent it and slap a nice AI on top of it.


I'd buy an apple car that wasn't self driving.


They have no clear visionary at the top vetting things for quality user experiences. Had Jobs still been with us we might actually have beautiful 3D Touch experiences. We might be seeing a beautiful refinement of the driving experience. Instead they're flailing. Hopefully this is a realignment and rededicated effort to do what they do best: make cool, proven tech perfect and accessible.


"When Steve is gone," Tevanian said, "the competition still will not have Steve Jobs."


there is a 20+ year history of PDAs before the iPhone. For all intents and purposes my 1998 Windows CE Casio PDA looks and acts like a first gen iPhone. It's home screen has a grid of 3x4 icons of apps and general works very analogous to the iPhone. Apple did an amazing job of polishing the PDA but they made an incremental jump being at the right place at the right time with affordable cellular data and capacitive touch and an amazingly well designed ui

it sounds like they we're doing much more with their car efforts


   > capacitive touch
Without this I do not thing anything qualifies as "acts like first gen iPhone".


> For all intents and purposes my 1998 Windows CE Casio PDA looks and acts like a first gen iPhone

I assume you also think a Hyundai looks and acts like a Ferrari.

Because that is what you are saying. I owned that PDA as well as the Treo 650 which was far better and the iPhone isn't an incremental jump. It was a complete revolution.


I assume you also think a Hyundai looks and acts like a Ferrari.

Compared to a car with freakin' spherical wheels, yes, it does.


> I assume you also think a Hyundai looks and acts like a Ferrari.

He argued against an assumption that apple reinvented smartphone. If you want to use this argument, you have to show that people think that Ferrari reinvented the car.


Only if Ferrari came into the market with a bunch of innovations that every manufacturer then adopts. I would call that a reinvention and more or less what Apple did.

People were using styluses, the phones were blocky and thick, the UI was confusing and adopted from desktop instead designed for mobile, hardware keyboards, small screens, business focused

I had every "smartphone" and internet tablet back in day running on Palm, Symbian, Blackberry. All of those OS's are completely irrelevant today because of how far Apple pushed the envelope. Though I thought Palm was headed in the right direction with the Pre.

You can call it an evolution but it was such a major leap it was essentially a redefinition.


The Hyundai Coupe from about ~15 years ago looked rather like a Ferrari 456. In fact some adverts here in the UK actually showed them side-by-side.


All technologies used in the iPhone were proven - what Apple did right is to combine them in a much better way than the previous iterations.

With self driving cars, it's not about usability/utility, it's still about having the basic tech work.


That's like saying that the first mobile phone used technologies that were all proven and that the inventors just combined them in a much better way because radios and phones existed. The combination itself is exactly what made it an invention and a revolution. Nearly every technology right now that's a revolution (Uber, for example) is a revolution precisely because it did something that's never been done before by standing on the shoulders of what came before it. The difference is that the combination and or features gained from that combination allowed the invention to leap frog over what existed before it.


I don’t forgive you for reminding me of that hobbled abomination.

Though I guess it serves as an example of unchecked carrier power. Something to point to for today’s net neutrality arguments?


Moto ROKR was a stalking horse to give Apple intel on how the carriers worked.

100 songs? It was designed to fail.


It was Apple that insisted on the limit.


reinventing the wheel and more changes to how current equipment works, in particular viewing aids, would bury this car in regulatory hell. it would take years to get permission for it to be on the road. figure it this way, if it takes many years just to get permission to change headlight technology can you imagine the time it would take to adjust to what Apple was proposing?

phones are dead simple compared to cars because phones NHTSA and Insurance issues to face up to


Good question: Is the iPhone a side effect of the iPod touch or the iPod touch a side effect of the iPhone?


Wait, what was wrong with the ROKR? I had the E1 and it was a fantastic phone for its time.


With the percentage of this project being a drop in the bucket compared to the 260B war chest I have nothing but positive thoughts for Apple attempting ambitious projects. In the next ~10 years they could be a trillion dollar company if they figure out how to get iPhone like growth out of another industry.


Yeah...I suspect a lot of people said something similar when it was rumoured they were going into the phone business.

I know a car is a very different beast to a small touchscreen computer that makes phone calls, but at the time everyone was looking at it from the perspective of a computer and entertainment company making a phone in a cut-throat thin-margin industry. What they did is make an iPod Touch with a cellular component, priced it higher than the flag-ship phone of the day and started with a single and not-very-loved service provider in the United States.

Now look where they are.


A consumer electronics company changing market segments is different than a consumer electronics company that wants to enter the automotive industry.

Apple was overly ambitious.


> a consumer electronics company that wants to enter the automotive industry.

I'd argue electric cars paired with automation are as near consumer electronics as they are to the automotive industry. Shedding the engine, transmission, steering column, and pretty much all mechanical systems bar the electric motors and braking systems, why couldn't they design it in California and outsource manufacturing to Hon Hai/Foxconn and their partners the way they do with their phones?


> pretty much all mechanical systems bar the electric motors and braking systems

... and the shocks and dampers and steering and servos and diffs and transfer boxes and electronic stability systems and dozens of sensors regularly exposed to harsh conditions and lights and crumple zones and doors and windows and air bags and seat belts and seats and air conditioning and ...

Elon Musk said something very true about the myriad of components and OEMs Tesla use - that having 99.9% of the parts on a car available and working, is a lot like having 0% of the parts.


You make a good point but my question still stands, why couldn't they design it in California and outsource manufacturing to Hon Hai/Foxconn the way they do with their phones? Unlike Tesla, sourcing the parts wouldn't be Apple's problem.


Because outsourcing car manufacturing doesn't make much sense. The transportation costs eat up most of the savings. That's why Toyotas, Volkswagons, etc sold in the US are made in the US.

One shipping container holds 60,000 iphones. One shipping container holds one car.


I agree. and it's not just transportation, or even taxes, it's also the cost of labor. iphones are assembled in china because chinese workers are cheaper than automating those particular jobs. cars, on the other hand, are almost entirely made by robots these days.[1] there's not as big a price difference between chinese and american robots as there is between chinese and american humans.

apple has a history of entering fairly high-margin markets where the existing products don't look or feel or function very well, and then they give it the jony ive treatment. but tesla is already there, they applied apple's playbook to cars and honestly took much bigger risks to get there than apple ever would. tesla took on a LOT of debt to be competitive, and it'll be a while before they even have profit, much less good margins. it'd be very hard for apple to compete. if apple ever enters the car market, a tesla acquisition is the only thing that would make sense to me.

1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_lfxPI5ObM


Also, for historical and political reasons, auto importing tends to be subject to a lot more taxing by customs.


Yep. Look up the chicken tax, or the way that Ford gets around it for their new small van.


Fascinating! Specifically with respect to NAFTA & its possible renegotiation.

It also makes me realize how terrifying it must be for major manufacturers to site capital-intensive factories. Wrong country? Or country that becomes wrong country a decade later? 25% tariff.


> Because outsourcing car manufacturing doesn't make much sense.

#1 It allows you to focus on design as opposed to supply chain management. #2 If the supply chain is centralised where production takes place then that bit of missing trunk carpet, as Elon Musk lamented, won't take two weeks to get to you and hold up the production line - It's down the road.

> One shipping container holds one car.

Which makes me think - the economics change if the vehicle you're shipping is only 1/2 or 1/3 the size of a typical car. When you have an electric automated vehicle why are you sticking with a sedan or truck sized vehicle when you can move individuals or couples?


Electric cars stick with the sedan/truck model for the same reason non-electric cars do: it is what people actually want. 90% of the time a car/truck only carries one person to/from work with nothing else. However that other 10% means the single occupant car will not work.

I have a car that gets 40mpg, and a truck that gets 18mpg. After you account for the extra insurance, license, taxes, and maintenance on my car, I'd be money ahead getting rid of the car and just driving my truck for everything even though times when I need a truck and a car will not do account for maybe 2% of my driving. Note that my car and truck a both paid for, if I'm making payments on both the math is even more lopsided toward not having a car.

People keep pointing out that I can rent a truck when I need on. However this is something is is true in theory, but not practice. It is actually hard to find someplace that will rent you a truck that allows you to use it. Want to take your rental truck off road - not allowed. Want to tow a trailer - most don't allow that. Want to put a sheet of plywood in the back - most don't allow that soft of damage. (though in this case the store probably has the best price and will allow it)


> Electric cars stick with the sedan/truck model for the same reason non-electric cars do: it is what people actually want.

Precisely this. Actually, you don't need to take our word for it. Several manufacturers small and large have tried the "tiny electric car" concept in Europe, a continent much more in love with small cars than the US, starting over a decade ago, and none have actually made it a success. E.g. the Reva (G-Wiz in the UK) was in sale from 2001 to 2013 with a total of 4 600 cars sold worldwide.

Compare that e.g. to the sales volumes of the Renault Zoe (60 000 cars sold since 2012) or the Nissan Leaf (250 000 cars sold since 2011).


You make the mistake of thinking Apple cares about market share. Their philosophy has always been to take the largest share of profit [1], with their phone market share hovering around 10% depending on country. Similarly their computer market share hovers around 5%, but it remains highly profitable.

Pair automation with a small, likely stylish car and demand from city-dwellers would be enough if Apple released something compelling.

[1] Google "apple smartphone profit market share"


Apple has never been a company that serves everyone, hence the reason they have a only a minor market share. They care about aesthetics and ease of use - which is why there isn't the tractor equivalent of a smart phone in their lineup. Your shoulder use cases means you probably wouldn't buy a vehicle made by Apple, similar to how if you need X feature in a phone and Apple doesn't provide it you'd buy a suitable alternative.

Let's go backwards with this one: What are most road trips for? Commuting. Would Apple want to make a vehicle for all uses and conditions? Doubtful. Would Apple want to make a truck? Highly doubtful.

They only need to make a vehicle that covers a considerable number of (but not all) use cases. If it can get people to work, to a store, to a friends house, to a restaurant or bar then the number of people who would want one is considerable. It would probably be better suited to those living in cities, but that's still a lot of people who notably require something that doesn't take up much space as parking is at a premium. Better yet, the vehicle could park itself, return home when not needed, pick up the occupant on demand or even car-share the way Elon Musk predicts Tesla owners might lease their vehicles.


> One shipping container holds one car.

Here's a company selling a product allowing you to ship 3-4 cars, or 6 micro cars in one container: http://www.consolidatedcarshipping.com/how-it-works/the-proc...


> Build a car that was familiar built out with quality materials and an iOS dash interface and you'd sell like hotcakes.

That's basically what Tesla is doing with their Model 3.


> Seems like they were biting off way more than they could chew.

They are building a patent portfolio that will be valuable over the next 20 years. No way will Apple enter a completely new market outside of consumer electronics.


Very large tech companies always have people looking into weird slightly bullshit things. Doesn't necessarily mean that they had any real intention of committing to these ideas.


Someone correct me if I'm wrong but it was my understanding Apple specifically stopped having teams "looking into weird slightly bullshit things" when Jobs returned.

The Apple Knowledge Navigator video comes to mind, it feels very similar to video-vaporware like Microsoft Origami and Microsoft Courier


One example is Xerox's PARC.


Spherical wheels are such a stupid, dangerous idea. The contact patch on regular tires is already tiny. Make them spherical and the contact patch becomes even smaller, which will cause them to lose traction and spin out in any rapid maneuver (like to avoid a collision).


Only if you massively increase the PSI so that the tire stays spherical.

If you keep the PSI at normal levels the contact patch will be exactly the same size as it is now, and the tire will deform on the bottom. So just design it to be extra flexible.


Dropping the pressure in the tire will lead to (way) higher risk of tearing of the tire fabric. You should never drive with a deflated tire, it multiplies the risk of tire failure like crazy.

So no, deflated spherical wheels is not a good idea :/


He's not saying it should be completely deflated, it just shouldn't be at max pressure; you can control the amount of deformation with pressure.


No that's not how it works. Look at a regular car tire. It's basically flat perpendicular to the direction of travel so the entire width of the tire is in contact with the ground. With a spherical tire the sides bend up away from the ground and only a single point is in contact. In order to get a larger contact patch you would have to run much lower tire pressure leading to worse handling, higher fuel consumption, and accelerated tire wear.


The surface contact of perfect cylinder (a regular car tire), and a perfect sphere (the iTire) is the same: 0 cm^2.

From that fact, you are saying that "obviously" the deformation of a cylinder (with some diameter/width ratio) filled with gaz at a certain pressure against a flat surface will lead to a higher surface than a sphere with the same pressure?

It's not obvious at all. Give me math+physics proof or GTFO.


>The surface contact of perfect cylinder (a regular car tire), and a perfect sphere (the iTire) is the same: 0 cm^2.

A perfect cylinder has a line of contact with the road: the width of the wheel. A perfect sphere has a point of contact.

Obviously you wouldn't see perfect eithers when talking about real-world tire implementations, but the perfect examples here are indicative of cylinders having more surface area with higher air pressure, whereas higher air pressure is the preferred state due to wheel wear and tear and handling issues that occur at low pressures.

Not to mention cylindrical wheels inherently resist lateral motion, have lower unsprung weights/volumes, and don't have the unnecessary engineering struggles of turning a spherical object into a pneumatic device.

I'm all for trying new things and testing wacky designs, but lots of people have looked at spherical wheels over the past few decades (Goodyear's implementation is a personal favorite[1]) and concluded they're pretty much just good looking, rather than an improvement in engineering over current wheels.

Given how good they look though, I'd love for someone to find a way to make them actually work.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSFYwDDVgac


> A perfect cylinder has a line of contact with the road: the width of the wheel. A perfect sphere has a point of contact.

And both have an area of zero. And the area is what matters here.

> but the perfect examples here are indicative of cylinders having more surface area with higher air pressure

This is not true. It's physically impossible. (What you have done is the geometrical equivalent of dividing by zero to prove 1 = 2.)

    Weight of car / Contact patch / number of wheels = PSI + strength of sidewall.
This equation is exact. The geometry of the tire makes no difference. You can not create pressure out of nothing. The pressure on the ground must exactly equal the weight of the car.

And the pressure on the ground must exactly equal the pressure in the tire adjusted for the size of the area of ground contact.

Do you see how for any given PSI (including the strength of the sidewall) the contact patch is an exact figure? The forces must all be equal, it's a basic law of physics.

There are certainly engineering issues, I'm not arguing about that. But the size of contact patch is not one of them. Put the same PSI in a cylindrical or spherical tire (neglecting the PSI contribution of the rubber) and the contact patch will have an identical size.

Typically wheels are made of metal wires and are stiff - so they don't like large contact areas because it means lots of flex. But it doesn't have to be that way. You can make a material that doesn't care about flex - if would be harder to make obviously, but it's not an impossible obstacle.


Assume a spherical cow?

Instead of wasting our time with ridiculous demands maybe just GTFOutside and look at some real tires.


Yes, that is actually how it works.

    Weight of car / Contact patch / number of wheels = PSI + strength of sidewall.
Doesn't matter if it's a cylinder or a sphere, the equation doesn't change.

PSI literally means: Pounds per square inch. Pounds of car per square inch of contact patch.


No that's not how it works and you're missing the point. In order to achieve an equivalent size contact patch a spherical tire will have to deform more than an equivalent cylindrical tire. With current materials this means you'll have to run it at a lower inflation pressure in order to achieve the necessary deformation, leading to all the problems described above.


Yes, it is. The forces must all balance exactly.

> a spherical tire will have to deform more than an equivalent cylindrical tire

This is true.

> With current materials this means you'll have to run it at a lower inflation pressure

This is not true. Yes, the strength of the rubber plays a part (adding to the effective PSI), but not a large effect unless you are almost flat.


Reminds me of this bike concept going around FB a while back.

http://www.designlaunches.com/transport/ibike_the_apple_bike...

It looks kind of cool, but a bike without spokes is a really bad idea.

Spokes give very high strength to weight ration for wheels. And having cog teeth close to the wheels is guaranteed to get clogged with crap. But it looks kind of "cool" to those who don't know any better.


What if the new car included a compressor that inflated/deflated the sphere as needed for traction control? I just made that up but that seems like it would make the idea a little less crazy.


On cars maybe but the Honda Uni Cub is kinda fun https://youtu.be/WCwzaTPARtU?t=20s


A team within Titan investigated the possibility of using spherical wheels — round like a globe — instead of the traditional, round ones, because spherical wheels could allow the car better lateral movement.”

Somebody liked the Audi RSQ from Minority Report.[1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audi_RSQ


As the page you linked indicates, the Audi RSQ was from I, Robot. The car in Minority Report was a Lexus 2054 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lexus_2054). :)


Sounds a lot like The Homer to me: http://simpsons.wikia.com/wiki/The_Homer


The Simpsons episode about self driving trucks was really before it's time too


So much that it felt unrealistic and silly even for the Simpson!

Crazy how a re-watch wouldn't be a look at far fetched science fiction.


I remember reading about Goodyear releasing a "spherical wheel" concept in early 2016: http://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/a19747/goodyear-eagle-3...


ISTM you could get all the same benefits much more easily using four-wheel independent steering, on regular, cylindrical wheels. The design could also be much more compact by sacrificing fully horizontal motion. (IE if the rear wheels only turned up to +-30 degrees, say.) It could still park very tightly using a zig-zag motion, and in any other situation tighter turning wouldn't be useful.

Porsche (and possibly other companies) are already moving in this direction, with newer models featuring computer-controlled rear wheel steering. At low speeds the rear wheels steer in the opposite direction to the front, and at high speeds in the same direction.


Active rear-wheel steering actually has a far larger history than its recent resurgence from Porsche, actually coming from Japanese manufacturers with mostly hydraulic (not electric) implementations.

* Nissan stared offering it with several 1986 Skyline trims, and would also offer it on Z32 300ZXs.

* Honda starting offering it on the 1987 Prelude, and also on the Accord starting in 1991.

* The 1988 Mazda 626 sedan (predecessor to the Mazda 6) had it.

* Toyota offered it in Japan on the Camry/Vista for the 1988 model year.

* ... and many, many more. From MPVs to pickup trucks.

The modern resurgence started again with Nissan, with several Infiniti models (the M and Q) offering electric versions from around 2006, and it appeared in the R35 GT-R. Though BMW was technically first with the E65 7-series. Porsche got into the game with the 991 911 GT3 (and optional on all 991.2 911s) because it alone hacked 1.5% off of lap times. The benefit of the newer setups is how wonderfully simple it is in terms of parts, complexity, and reliability (and no more hydraulic leaks!)

Having driven both the R35 and 991.2s, the difference is pronounced. RWS is one of the reasons why the GT-R could manage itself (it is approaching 4000 pounds) as well as it could around the track, and why the latest 911s I've driven on track were so eager to dive-bomb apexes compared to any other 911 I've ever driven.


I briefly drove a Honda with 4-wheel steering in the early 90s. All I remember is the amazing turning radius.


Please don't glorify companies before they actually deliver.


I remember when people went crazy trying to nitpick the probability of spherical "wheels" when "I, Robot" came out and Audi had designed a car with exactly the type of system being mentioned. The general consensus, and even Audi agreed, was that spherical wheels would really only work "in the future" when roads weren't as gritty and mechanical as they are now. They would really only work when roads were smooth and made of some yet-to-be-invented material that wouldn't crack or break in pieces under regular use.


> because spherical wheels could allow the car better lateral movement

uhm, looks more like management entered the project without any real goal or metric for success, throwing ideas at walls just for the sake of budgeting.


Apple is good at taking something that works but in a clunky way, and make it clean and perfect for consumers. Not to be first to market.

There were smartphones before the iPhone, and there were mp3 players before the iPod.

If Apple is to reproduce the successes they had they will release a driverless car a few years after the competitors but it will finally be the one that "just works", without the clunky design and the necessary tweaking and weird options.


And, if it's electric, you'll have to replace the power cord every year or two because strain reliefs are aesthetically offensive.


>Project Titan looked at a wide range of details. That included motorized doors that opened and closed silently.

Another example of apple putting too much emphasize on fluff... who cares about the door mechanism when the company doesn't know how to build the car it bolts to.


Sounds like a lot of bike-shedding.


Sounds a lot like a company that wanted to build a new house of the future but found out they prefer redesigning the light fixtures, faucets, etc rather than the house itself. Aka the general UX details rather that would be ideal in a modern house rather than the house itself.

Apple probably would never have developed the smartphone first but they did a hell of a good job at getting all the details right with the iPhone once the bigger picture was worked out by other companies - and general technical progress.

I'd imagine the same thing for the future AI interface. I'd want my AI front-end to be developed by Apple but my pedestrian detection algorithm developed by Google, and my car designed by BMW.

The most important thing for talented people (and by proxy organizations) to figure is what they are best at contributing to the world and focusing on that. Instead of trying to do everything.


Isn't that just a form of bike-shedding?


How is that bike shedding?


https://en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/bikeshedding

"Parkinson observed that a committee whose job is to approve plans for a nuclear power plant may spend the majority of its time on relatively unimportant but easy-to-grasp issues, such as what materials to use for the staff bikeshed, while neglecting the design of the power plant itself, which is far more important but also far more difficult to criticize constructively"

For Apple's task of building a automated car, industrial design is an "unimportant but easy-to-grasp" issue since Apple's expertise is design. They should have focused on the harder core problem of a car that can drive itself.

In fact this seems almost like an archetypical example of bikeshedding.


> Even though Apple had not ironed out many of the basics, like how the autonomous systems would work, a team had already started working on an operating system software called CarOS. There was fierce debate about whether it should be programmed using Swift, Apple’s own programming language, or the industry standard, C++.

Wow. Few things guarantee success like starting off a project with a good old-fashioned language flamewar!


Same type of conflict happened with iOS. http://appleinsider.com/articles/17/01/11/video-shows-early-...


My guess is it wasn't much of a debate and in actuality they used something like Simulink to model the control system and then had that generate the C++ code for the target hardware. I doubt any car control system software is written by hand these days.


Operating system. Not control system. You don't write an OS in Simulink.


And it didn't settle it - I would love to know if they went for C++. It's getting better and better.

Of course, if they wrote it in Swift 1 they would have had pains migrating to 2 and 3, but if they wrote it in C++ then they wouldn't be able to refactor any of the code as Xcode doesn't support refactoring C++....


I'd say the choice of language you write your OS in is a pretty important one. There should be a fierce debate about such things.


If you're talking about the actual vehicle motion control systems, they probably should have been looking at what languages avionics companies use, not what their app developers are familiar with.

You'll need languages and operating systems that are battle-tested (literally) in hard-real-time fault tolerant systems.

Swift should never have been on the whiteboard for something like that. It's never been used in that scenario.


So what do avionics companies use? C, C++, Ada? Anything else?


Avionics companies have very complex rules. They can use any of the above, but generally a subset.

For example you might use C, but ban malloc, and recursion. There will be static analysis tools that look through your code and calculate exactly how much memory you are using using in the worst case of function call tree, that way they know they cannot run out of memory or stack.


We mostly use C and not C++ in the automotive industry BTW.


This is a weirdly titled report which implies it just happened. The "Apple scales back" part was already reported first by Bloomberg last year (which seems to be behind a paywall now) [1]. Bob Mansfield was brought on to refocus Project Titan on the fundamentals (being self-driving) rather that producing a car [2]. But both of these reports have the exact same hedging:

>Apple Inc. has drastically scaled back its automotive ambitions, leading to hundreds of job cuts and a new direction that, for now, no longer includes building its own car, according to people familiar with the project.

>Five people familiar with Apple’s car project, code-named “Titan,” discussed with The New York Times the missteps that led the tech giant to move — at least for now — from creating a self-driving Apple car to creating technology for a car that someone else builds.

And that's because the idea that Apple is going to be an auto parts supplier like Delphi that sells middleware to car companies is completely laughable.

There isn't actually much news in this report. The tidbits that the reporter got clearly motivated writing this article but it doesn't actually live up to its premise. In fact, PAIL seems like an expansion of Apple's efforts from what was previously reported.

[1] https://www.macrumors.com/2016/07/28/apple-car-autonomous-dr...

[2] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-10-17/how-apple...


Looks like John Gruber has confirmed what I suspected.

https://daringfireball.net/2017/08/titan_nyt


Looks like he didn't confirm anything at all.


>“Shelved” is an accurate word, but I think many people have interpreted it as meaning that Apple has given up on designing its own vehicles. My understanding is that it’s more like “Let’s get the autonomous shit down first, and worry about designing vehicles to put it in after that.” Eat the steak one bite at a time rather than all at once.


I don’t get why Apple would do that. They have enough employees who are capable of doing both in parallel. Furthermore, the talent capable of creating autonomous software are not the kind of people who excel at designing the vehicle itself. Apple could easily be doing both so that they have either one ready at the time of the release (and if one team fails, they could buy the self driving part from another company).


> They have enough employees who are capable of doing both in parallel.

Number of employees isn't what determines whether it's deliverable or not. It's likely they're deferring a decision to design the rest of the car until they're certain that they can do autonomous


1. He doesn't speak for Apple so can't confirm anything. 2. "I think". 3. '"Shelved"' is an accurate word..'


Sure he did.


If Apple were truly serious about building self-driving cars, they would buy one of the big 3 US auto manufacturers. It could buy all 3 with cash and still have one of the largest hoards of cash ever accumulated.


Over the decades I've noticed how businesses need to recognize and focus on their core competencies - if they don't, they die. Everything must feed that core, and undue distractions are lethal. Occasionally there's a need to pivot, which is deliberately stepping from one competency to another, but that is rare and difficult. Apple's core is to build small computers; everything else they do (music, video, cloud services, Siri, AI, AR, operating systems, etc) are all built to draw customers deeper into the ecosystem for the sole purpose of buying more small computers. Electric self-driving cars, while very nifty, are decidedly not small computers (at best being a tiny part of a large product demanding other competencies); to compete in that market requires scale which Apple could certainly buy but would fiercely compete for the attention vs small computers.


I definitely wouldn't call AWS, Echo from Amazon occasional. I think companies come in all shapes and sizes - some focus 90% on their core, some try to spend more time and diverge out to other business segments. Its upto Apple to figure out what to do and what would make it successful.


AWS is an offshoot of building the massive system needed to process the "we sell absolutely everything" goal. Methinks they just got so good at it, cloud services just kinda took on a life of its own and grew from there - but still feeds the retailing monster.

Echo is a consequence of exploring digital appliances as marketing tools. If you're going to build a device which can voice-interface someone ordering 6 bottles of Tide with extreme ease, doesn't take much more to turn it into a nice music speaker and tell you weather & sports & jokes on request. Echo, Fire, etc are just extensions to feeding the retailing monster.

Do notice how Amazon's innovative foray into cell phones crashed & burned hard - despite being lauded as rather a well-built device. That shows how straying too far doesn't work, and that "far" isn't very.


I worked at Amazon for a while and the point to note is that the Fire phone, despite being a public failure, led to a lot of things at Amazon. For ex: 1. The computer vision and machine learning stuff behind the 8 cameras on the Fire phone has been repacked and reused at multiple places. There's also a object recognition service in AWS if I remember correctly. 2. The FireOS, which powered the Fire phone, is being used on all Kindles except the older e-ink Kindles.

While the hardware division was indeed shut down, Amazon did manage to salvage as much as they can.

The cloud service didn't take a life on its own - in the very early days there was just EC2 and S3, nothing else. It took a lot of focused investment, commitment and trust from the management to give the AWS experiment more time so that it could succeed and eventually it did.

Fire phone was one of Amazon's many experiments. It failed sure, but hey you miss 100% of the changes you don't take.


> The cloud service didn't take a life on its own - in the very early days there was just EC2 and S3, nothing else

Just a minor point of correction: Actually SQS was first.

https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/aws-blog-the-first-five-yea...


In what way is the billions of dollars Amazon is spending on original content "just an extention to feeding the retailing monster"?

It's easy to point to one failed product as proof that "straying too far doesn't work", if you can do the mental gymnastics required to classify all their successful products as somehow more connected to their original goal.


IMO you do have a good point: Nothing about Prime seems to play particularly to Amazon's strengths, other than the wide reach of their sales channels (but if that's an argument, you could as well have Walmart doing the same). This is especially visible when you compare their software to Netflix. Still light years ahead of Apple though.


Prime Video is a benefit of Prime. I have Amazon Prime for the shipping benefits. I appreciate the video side, but I wouldn't pay $99/year for it.


I think it's more that most don't see Amazon's actual core competence. Amazon is a logistics business, both information and physical. They do logistics for themselves for various front-ends (amazon.com, echo, video, kindle, etc.) but you can view all of those as accessories to their AWS, warehousing, and shipping business which they provide both for their own front ends and for sale to anyone.


If you define "core competence" sufficiently vaguely then sure, everything can be related to that core competence.

"a logistics business, both information and physical"? Really? Calling their massive retail business, original content, and physical devices an "accessory" to their warehousing is an extremely myopic view of Amazon.


Remember that much of what is sold on Amazon.com is not actually sold by Amazon. Amazon provides warehousing and fulfillment and an online storefront for third party sellers as well as for itself. The tools that it uses to run that online storefront in the form of AWS are used by many non-Amazon websites as well. The Kindle ecosystem helps Amazon sell retail books but also provides a self-publishing platform. It's not unreasonable to say that logistics, warehousing and web services are the real business, and that Amazon's retail business is one of many customers.


Might as well call Apple an "electronics business, both small and large."


Amazon sells retail themed logistics. Apple sells consumer computing themed user experience.


What does Yamaha sell?


Nothing, business. It's a conglomerate. A business that's function is running businesses. A Yamaha piano has nothing at all to do with a Yamaha motorcycle exactly opposite to how all of Amazon's services are related and intertwined.


Steve Yegge's Platform Rant is still relevant, I think.

https://plus.google.com/+RipRowan/posts/eVeouesvaVX


You are chooosing to ignore the many diversified companies and conglomerates that have done very well, some for more than a human lifetime.

Besides, Apple doing the iPod and iPhone is a counter example to your argument, unless you stretch the definition of the core business of a Y2K computer company to be music players and phones.


Apple's forte, above anyone's, is merging software and hardware. Level 5 autonomous cars align perfectly with their core competency.


No, Apple's strength is refining, polishing, blending, and packaging existing electronic and software technologies.

Cars are more about mechanical engineering than electronics or software. Learning automotive design from scratch when you have no experience and barely any trained staff is not a trivial task.

Worse, a Level 5 autonomous car is not an existing consumer technology. At this point there's nothing to refine, and barely anything that could be bought in to start the refinement process.

Apple might as well go into house building, farming, or food products.


Counter arguments: Walmart, Google and Amazon.


Not well known in the west, but Mitsubishi has been and is active in an insane number of business sectors:

Shipping, motor vehicles, home electronics, bank and finance (UFJ holdings), nuclear power, cameras and optics (Nikon), industrial chemistry, beer brewing (Kirin) and real estate.


That's just the zaibatsu/keiretsu/chaebol system. Samsung also does everything from shopping malls to credit cards to heavy industry.


Google was a search engine that made money via ads then pivoted into an ad platform that also has a search engine. Android and Chrome are about ensuring they have a seat at the table and don't get pushed out by Apple or Microsoft. The first thing of significance they've done that doesn't fit this is their cloud platform.


You could as well have said: That's right, Google's cloud platform is a counterargument.


Their cloud platform is the same thing: trying to not get pushed out by Amazon and Microsoft.

Google Cloud is about ensuring that those two have competition and can't somehow pull an EEE. Extreme scenario: vast majority of world's online businesses are hosted on AWS and Amazon for whatever reason creates their own AWS ad service and forbids or undercuts Google AdWords for everything hosted on AWS.


"EEE"?


Embrace, Extend, Extinguish

This is the first time I've seen it shortened to an acronym.


I'm pretty sure I'm not the first one to turn it into an acronym: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/EEE :)


Another counter argument: Elon Musk.


Imo modern cars are basically small computers and everything else(seats,doors,wheels)is peripheral. I mean it is 2017 after all, don't you think it's about time we accept that cars are computers? Sure, we used to need humans to "complete" the computer part, seeing as we didn't have motherboards at first. But now computer is the core part of car and even humans aren't necessary. Why even bring your cell phone when your car is a cell phone? It's possible Apple needs the car to compete in a post cell phone world.


They have to focus on their competencies but they also have to completely reinvent themselves every decade or so or they will die. Once the iPhone is gone, Apple will be gone.


When companies focus on just one thing in a vertical, they're incredibly vulnerable. Samsung does lots of things fairly well, with some hiccups, well beyond just personal electronics and home appliances. It's diversification.

EDIT: Samsung does all sorts of things including ship-building, life insurance, construction and advertising.

For example, Apple MacBook Pros have become uncool, expensive, unrepairable and impractical... a giant FU to customers. That business is tettering on failure because they've been hypnotized on elixir of utopian, aspirational design rather than technical, environmental and practical usability. iPhone is the lion's share of Apple's business, and they're losing ground to Android. That's a problem and most other products have plateaued and aren't anywhere near as dominant-capable or category-defining as the smartphone. That means Apple is a basically a banana republic (pun intended) unless they create or retake a category with a non-incrementalist product.

Disclaimer: I own an A1278 13" from 2013 but refuse to buy a $3000 soldered on RAM and SSD laptop that can't be transfered without proprietary service tools and whose glued-on batteries are a PITA to change. Also the low-travel, flush keyboards are terrible. Looking at Lenovo and System76 machines instead.


> That business is tettering on failure

They sold over 4 million Macs this past quarter, so I don't know what you're going on about here.


Numbers today are all well and good, but goodwill and rate-of-change indicate future trends. People will tire of $3000 laptops with nonfunctional WiFi and Apple Authorized Service Centers voiding their AppleCare warranties.


> Numbers today are all well and good, but goodwill and rate-of-change indicate future trends

Well, they're down YoY, from 4.2 million to... 4.18 million. So in another 200 years, they'll have all disappeared.


>EDIT: Samsung does all sorts of things including ship-building, life insurance, construction and advertising.

You can't compare a conglomerate to an integrated company.


>That business is tettering[sic] on failure ...

Citation required. (other than you refusing to buy one).

> Looking at Lenovo and System76 machines instead.

Please don't do System76, their laptops are pieces of crap. My wife and I have had good experiences with thinkpads though.


Keywords "Looking at." I'll take that as a datapoint.


I mostly agree with this post but the more I type on my new MBP keyboard the more I love it. Was skeptical at first, made a lot of noise, felt weird, but this flipped pretty fast to big appreciation.


There's less affordances for touch-typing based on the shape of keys like Lenovo or older keyboards for boundaries of keys... it just makes typing harder unnecessarily to shave a few millimeters.


Yeah but not the touch bar.


Touchbar is definitely a no-go, requires looking down and breaks flow.


They wouldn't get the tech they're looking for.

Manufacturing scale is not something they need until after they have the self driving tech (and also, I'd just partner with a Japanese or German automaker tbh. Toyota under the current CEO has made moves that hint that it would be open to a joint venture).

The main differentiator of current big auto is the engine and drivetrain engineering, which you can circumvent when going electric.

It's unclear what you're buying with a big 3 company that actually helps with the self driving part of the problem, which is currently a much larger problem than manufacturing scale and quality assurance.


You're also buying huge liabilities:

- constrictive agreements with dealers

- rapidly deprecating manufacturing assets

- a workforce with sunk costs in last generation skills

- a warranty burden on old vehicles

- pensions and other union agreements

- a beloved brand that the public may not be happy seeing chewed up and regurgitated as iTaxi Supplier 4A

If you believe in an autonomous and electric near future, some of these companies should have Yahoo-style negative valuations.


> - a workforce with sunk costs in last generation skills

Often a unionized workforce. You didn't want to use more robots on your assembly lines like Elon Musk, did you? Because these guys are still going to be employed. Period.


I don't think these points are of any relevance. Once you have stage IV autonomy, you can partner with any car manufacturer you want, you have all the leverage.

However, knowledge in cars definitely helps building the technology, since there are so many little variables that you otherwise would oversee.


You can try to partner. However all major auto manufactures are looking at self driving cars. Some are doing it in house, some are having and existing trusted partner do it. That minor auto manufactures have partnerships with someone major and have reasonable confidence that their major partner will provide the technology.

Apple and Silicone valley in general is not a trusted partner, in fact they are the opposite: untrusted. Car manufactures have lost millions of dollars on safety lawsuits. The cowboy coding culture silicon valley has a reputation (not always deserved) for doesn't work, they need controlled processes where they can show the courts they made effort to check everything, starting with the design phase.

Car makers expect that they will be sued over a 10 year old car with some parts failing. They need to show the court they did everything possible to anticipate that exact failure case and either ensure it couldn't happen, or if it they handle it. When someone is dead, "we didn't think about that case" doesn't cut it.

In short, I don't think Apple or google will get anywhere in self driving cars. They have early demonstrations, but that doesn't mean anything long term. It doesn't even prove they have an early lead (though I suspect they do) since car companies might or might not say anything about where they are. In fact in this case I expect them to be very careful not to say anything: if they say to much a lawyer might argue the car should have been self driving and thus the car manufacture is fault for an accident. As such they need to set expectations that self driving cars are a future thing that isn't ready yet.


Why would a high margin, high ROE, low capital requirements business like Apple invest in a low margin, poor ROE, high capital requirements business like a car maker?

Besides being a poor investment that would lock up lots of their capital, it would also create a ton of management distractions.

If they are serious about building self-driving cars, they are probably making a huge mistake. Cars have been a poor business model for quite a long time. Licensing automonomous tech seems like a far better business model.


Electric will drive down the per-mile cost of the vehicles, and autonomous will drive up the per-hour use of the vehicles, which will lead to a larger potential margin.

You can sell a car for a lot more if it's being rented out for 12 driving hours per day. Especially so if it's a high end experience. People have a hard time shelling out $60,000 for a car when they could get something pretty adequate for $30,000, but when the choice is a $2 cab ride or a $4 luxury cab ride, a lot more people will pay the margin.


It won't work that way though. Cities have this thing called "rush hour" for a reason: a some specific times of the day far more people need to get around than others.

Worse, the people who use their car in the middle of the day are the least likely to use shared cars. They are the most likely to need a change of clothing, a stroller in their car just in case. They are also the most likely to run back and for from their car for each purchase at the mall.

What that leaves is people going to/from work, and their lunch breaks. At this point you may as well own your own car self driving car: at worst it is not much more expensive (shared might be 10% cheaper), and you get to leave your golf clubs in the car while at work. At best you can ignore a few tears and keep the car for longer making owning your own car cheaper than a shared car which needs to maintain appearance and cleanliness standards.

Shared cars work well for those people who rarely use a car. However those are the people who already are renting cars, using taxis and the like for the few times they need a car.


> when the choice is a $2 cab ride or a $4 luxury cab ride, a lot more people will pay the margin.

But when the cab ride is a more realistic $25, and a luxury cab ride $50, most people will go for the $25 option. See Uber Black vs Uber X.


My understanding is that it's one of the few markets left that can move the needle. The biggest markets are health care, finance, petroleum, consumer electronics, and automotive.

PCs and phones are low-margin capital intensive businesses. Apple seems pretty good at commanding high margins in such industries.

As for why Apple doesn't license their tech, well, that's not how Apple operates, because then they lose control over the experience. ROKR and the like.


Apple has an easy way to move the needle, return it's profits to shareholders as dividends. They can produce better returns that way then dumping it into lesser businesses.

Apple has made great margins in PCs and Phones because it refused to use commodity operating systems. It's not clear that there is any similar advantage in cars. Everyone will be making autonomous cars, the markets will be highly competitive and they'll still require massive capital investments to make. It's unlikely customers will pay up much for a slightly better autonomous system.

If Apple wanted to go into cars, they should buy Porshe or Ferrari. They actually have brands that make their products difficult or impossible to copy well. Porsche in particular sells cares that are super highly engineered in every area, Apple can't create a Porsche like car business by selling an autonomous car by doing autonomous great, but ride, handling, acceleration, etc just acceptably


Everybody and their dog is trying to develop autonomous tech and license it. Autonomous capabilities used to be regarded as the secret sauce, and if you had it, the future of mobility was yours. This is not true. The ability to mass produce a vehicle is the secret sauce. It's the part that's hard to do.

But as far as low margins in the car industry goes, that point is irrelevant. Robotaxis are a different ballgame.


> Autonomous capabilities used to be regarded as the secret sauce, and if you had it, the future of mobility was yours. This is not true.

I think you're right that when we get self-driving cars it won't be due to a single secret, but rather hundreds of years of engineering time dedicated to getting all the kinks out.

But this is still a super complicated engineering problem, and not all people/orgs will be up to the task, and will not execute on the same timescales.

I think the way this plays out will be determined by how much of a lead the first movers (probably WayMo) will have, and whether companies will cut corners to get something "good enough" out the door, and how the public will react to that.

E.g. I think it's a very different world for automakers if WayMo turns out to have a 5 year lead on them, vs a 1 year lead on them. Cruise certainly looks like they are giving them a good run for their money.


The culture and support issues that would incur seem non-trivial.


It wasn't true about mobile phones, a business which had what looked like insurmountably dominant incumbents when Apple entered the business. Instead, Apple changed the business out from under the incumbents. Autonomous vehicles will similarly change the vehicle and transportation industry. That's an inflection point where incumbency matters less.


Apple will not buy any US company using it's cash hoard because of tax implications. They can of course raise debt, similar to what Amazon is doing with Whole foods.


> Apple will not buy any US company using it's cash hoard because of tax implications.

Why cant Apple Ireland buy US companies?


Reasonably sure their buying all three automakers would attract the attention of antitrust regulators.


A moral of this story is "don't name things 'Titan' or titan-related names". It's asking for trouble - Blizzard's 'Project Titan', Titan A.E., the Titanic. Things didn't end all that well for the titans in Greek mythology either.


Nice point, but I guess so far the chemical element titanium is doing all right.


It's faking it, still bitter about the time Apple kicked it out their laptops.



To the extent Project Titan served as the seed of Overwatch it was probably profitable (maybe even when you take into account opportunity cost).


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