Cook talks Apple car, a tad: AVs are robots and there’s magic in integrated tech

Apple Tim Cook Big Sur
In an interview, Apple CEO Tim Cook hinted the tech giant is interested in making an autonomous vehicle and mostly wants to find the magic intersection of hardware, software and services. (Apple)

The autonomous car is a robot, according to Apple CEO Tim Cook in an interview with Kara Swisher on the “Sway” podcast released Monday.  He also said the “magic” occurs at the intersection of hardware, software and services and Apple loves to own the primary technology around all of that.

“The autonomy itself is a core technology, in my view,” Cook said. “If you sort of step back, the car, in a lot of ways is a robot. An autonomous car is a robot. And so there’s lots of things you can do with autonomy. And we’ll see what Apple does. We investigate so many things internally. Many of them never see the light of day. I’m not saying that one will not.”

Cook’s comments may be the closest any reporter has come to getting Cook to talk on the record about whether Apple is going to make an autonomous vehicle, as has been widely rumored for years.  A more recent rumor that Apple would work with Hyundai-Kia to manufacture an Apple-branded autonomous electric vehicle at a Kia assembly plant in Georgia was batted back by the automakers.

His comments came after Swisher noted that Apple had acquired self-driving startup Drive AI and is testing AVs.  She noted that Elon Musk last year offer to sell Tesla to Apple for 1/10 its value. “And he said you wouldn’t even take a meeting with him,” she added.

To which Cook responded: “I’ve never spoken to Elon although I have great admiration and respect for the company’s he’s built. I think Tesla has done an unbelievable job of not only establishing the lead, but keep the lead for  such a long period of time in the EV space. So I have great appreciation for them. In terms of the work that we’re doing there [on AVs], I’m going to be a little coy on that…”

Swisher pushed on whether Apple would actually make a car or the tech within the car and eventually got Cook to say this: “We love to integrate hardware, software, and services, and find the intersection points of those because we think that’s where the magic occurs. And so that’s what we love to do. And we love to own the primary technology that’s around that.”

Swisher’s interview took many directions, including whether Apple is building a mixed-reality headset. Cook said he would not talk about anything in the pipeline, but said he is already seeing augmented reality “take off in some of these areas with the use of the phone…And I think the promise is even greater in the future.” When asked if AR is critically important to Apple’s future, he said, “it is.”

Cook’s comments might not surprise anybody familiar with Apple’s philosophy toward products. With the hiring of Doug Field in 2018, formerly Tesla’s senior vice president of engineering, the stage was set for Apple’s AV interest.  Former Tesla vice president of engineering Michael Schwekutsch is also now senior director of engineering for special projects at Apple.

We have to stay tuned for what Apple does with AVs and AR.

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