Apple is recruiting experts in automotive technology and vehicle design to work at a new top-secret research lab, according to several people familiar with the company, pointing to ambitions that go beyond the dashboard.
Dozens of Apple employees, led by experienced managers from its iPhone unit, are researching automotive products at a confidential Silicon Valley location outside the company’s Cupertino campus, the people said.
Sir Jonathan Ive’s team of Apple designers has held regular meetings with automotive executives and creators in recent months, in some cases trying to hire them. Recent recruits to Apple’s team include the head of Mercedes-Benz’s Silicon Valley R&D unit.
The Apple research lab was set up late last year, not long after Apple unveiled its forthcoming smart watch and latest iPhones, which suggests that any resulting product may still be years away from release. Apple often investigates a wide range of new product areas, some of which never get released.
Bolstered by the resurgent success of its iPhones, the company’s ambition under chief executive Tim Cook is growing.
Its closest rival, Google, has spent years developing an autonomous vehicle and carmakers from Tesla Motors to century-old Detroit brands are vying for Silicon Valley talent. But many dismiss the idea of an Apple-made car as far-fetched, not least because it lacks its own manufacturing facility.
The lab may be developing an advanced software platform for automakers to run in their vehicles that builds on its CarPlay infotainment system.
But people familiar with the company said that the background of the people Apple is hiring — including automotive designers and vehicle dynamics engineers — and the seniority of the executives involved suggest a car could be in the works.
“Three months ago I would have said it was CarPlay,” said one person who has worked closely with Apple for many years, referring to Apple’s infotainment system. “Today I think it’s a car.”
Mr Cook has made it clear that the automotive industry is an area in which he feels Apple can make a greater impact. At a Goldman Sachs technology conference in San Francisco this week, he said that CarPlay was one of three new technology platforms Apple launched last year that are “key to our future”, alongside HealthKit and HomeKit.
“We’ve taken iOS and extended it into your car, into your home, into your health,” Mr Cook said. “All of these are really critical parts of your life and none of us want to have different platforms in different parts of our lives.” Read more…