Why Apple's Latest Hire Is Huge News

Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images.
Apple just made a surprising new hire: Doug Betts, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' former senior vice president of global quality. The big auto-industry get is huge news, because now, the idea of an Apple Car isn't so much an "if," as a "when."

Apple hired Betts for an operations role, The Wall Street Journal reports, an indicator that the Cupertino-based company is getting serious about developing an electric vehicle. However, as TechCrunch notes, "operations" is very broad, and while Apple has poached workers from electric car-maker Tesla, Betts and others could simply be using their expertise to improve efficiency in the supply chain for existing products.

However, just as the rumors surrounding the Apple Watch (and the string of fitness and fashion-related hires) that persisted for years before the product's launch actually proved to be true, it seems safe to assume that Apple is in fact planting some roots in the car space. But, Apple's not just going to debut their own version of a Camry, or some competitor to the Tesla Model S. If the company is indeed working on a car, it will somehow push beyond our current vehicular expectations, and offer its own innovative spin on the auto experience. Here's how that could look.

Taking Control Of The In-Car Experience
Right now, Apple already has a small presence on your dashboard: CarPlay. In select car models, CarPlay uses your iPhone to power your dash, so you can use Siri for voice control, easily access your music library, or get turn-by-turn navigation with Apple Maps. Apple's "car" could simply be an extension of this: an Apple-designed in-car experience, running from the seats and steering wheel to the dash and gauge panel. Using your phone as its guide, it could know when you're approaching the car, prepping the music volume and air conditioner to your preferences. You may be able to use your Apple Watch to start the vehicle. It could automatically handle incoming notifications if you're the driver. It could have the ability to detect and reroute when obstacles and road closures interfere with your ride, and help you maximize gas efficiency (if it's not designed exclusively for electric vehicles). Like CarPlay, automakers could adopt Apple's experience for specific car models, while vehicle manufacturers continue to handle the engine and the car exterior.

A Practical Driverless Vehicle
Jalopnik has a very interesting and completely different take on what Apple's car could be: The first practical autonomous car. It could be sleek, driverless, and passenger-less, designed to run errands for you, like picking up pre-ordered groceries at the store. It could accompany you when you need extra space in addition to your own vehicle (like if you're moving or going on a camping trip). It could be fully electric, and partner with specific businesses for many of its tasks. It could be capable of handling many of the tedious and mundane trips you normally have to take in your car.

An Autonomous Electric Car
And then there's the possibility that Apple could be creating its own self-driving car. Unlike in the scenario imagined by Jalopnik, you'd be in the car as well, and it could either be completely autonomous, or have a self-driving mode you can switch on or off. Again, it'd likely be electric, styled by Jonny Ive and his team of product designers, relying heavily on iPhone and Apple Watch integration for operation and knowledge of your preferences. Because Apple has forged partnerships with automakers for CarPlay, though, this would pit Apple against those one-time allies as a competitor — not that this situation would deter Apple in the slightest.

Whatever Apple is working on — and perhaps the company is still in the early stages of exploring what exactly that even is — we won't see it for years. It will have to be more than just a car, though, because for the next generation of drivers, their phone is more important than getting their driver's license — which is the perfect opportunity for Apple.

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