Dennis has created AppleCarFans, a new site that focuses exclusively on the still-secret shift that the popular computer company is making towards cars. What, exactly, that shift is no one outside the company really knows. Which means that there are lots of rumors to discuss and futures to predict. This is exactly what we did in a recent email Q&A with Dennis.
Autoblog Green: How do you see the Apple car rumors today in relation to where the plug-in vehicle industry and fan base were when you started GM-Volt.com?
Lyle Dennis: It is understandably fascinating to me how different the rumor scenario is between the Apple Car of today and the Chevy Volt of 2007, and the considerable differences between the plugin fan base as it was then and is now.
Apple's strict corporate rule of secrecy makes gleaning and getting information about the Apple Car much more challenging than it was for the Volt. When GM first showed the Volt concept they were trying to recover from the EV1 PR disaster and were very open to reporters who wanted to write about them. Apple, of course, uses secrecy to build demand and they don't have any PR problem, exemplified by being the second-most valuable company in the world.
Apple's strict secrecy makes gleaning information about the Apple Car much more challenging.
Of course, the fan base has changed lot too. In 2007, EV enthusiasts were a small West Coast bunch and most people didn't know about it. Since then, essentially every automaker has launched electric cars, and the US government has pushed it, so most of the population has heard of them. They haven't caught on as much as I imagined they would by now, but that has something to do with the price of oil having dropped by 2/3 since then and the US shale industry taking off.
For reasons I mention below I think the Apple Car fanbase will be very different than the EV fanbase, and much larger.
ABG: What gets you most interested and excited about an Apple Car?
LD: Another thing that sets the Apple Car apart from the Volt and other EVs is its technological focus. The Volt and EVs were more about the powertrain and the energy source. I think the Apple Car will be more about the user experience and seamless integration into all aspects of digital life. The fact that it is electric may be quite secondary.
I think the Apple Car will be more about the user experience.
I'm very excited about Apple's history of disrupting technology spaces like they did with the iPod and later the iPhone. They were not the first in these categories but took their time and created unique, fantastic user experiences that could not have been possible without concurrent technology. I suspect they are looking to do the same thing with the automobile. I expect the Apple Car to produce a driving and user experience that has no precedent. This will likely attract people who historically might not have much interest in cars in general.
ABG: What do you want to see most in an Apple Car?
LD: I want to see the Apple Car drive itself and immerse me in digital splendor as it does so. I especially like the idea of an augmented-reality-enabled digital touch windshield that lets me explore the things I see on the road as I drive along and not have to be distracted by actually driving the car. I also want to see a more-powerful Siri to chat with in the car. More than this and best of all, I want and expect Apple to give me disruptive features I haven't even dreamed of.
I want to see the Apple Car drive itself and immerse me in digital splendor.
ABG: Which of the rumors about the Apple Car do you put the most stock into? Which do you think are totally false?
LD: I believe the car will be self-driving or at least have that feature as an option. This rumor, to me, is most likely to be true. It isn't that much of a surprise considering Tesla, Google, and all the automakers are working on this. Apple has been silently building its Maps function for years and there have been sightings of Apple vans (like Google's street-view car), so I'd expect we will see this.
The AR-enabled touch windshield would be cool but certainly may not make it into the Apple Car 1!
ABG: Have you been tracking the people that Apple is hiring to work on this project, and what do you think it says about Apple's approach to this car.
LD: Yes, we are tracking the hiring and it is interesting. It looks like the hiring approach is really more about the technology. Apple is known to leapfrog competitors by including technology no one else has, and I think this is the case here. I also believe Jony Ive, Apple's head of design, is passionate about cars and I think we will see some real beautiful design breakthrough here as well.
ABG: What will you be doing with your new website that different or the same as what you did for your Volt site?
LD: In many ways the plan is similar. We will search out Apple car news and publish it in real time on a daily basis. A major difference is Apple will not likely be giving any interviews with members of their team, as GM used to. We will thus have to rely on industry insiders and perhaps a few well-placed anonymous sources for any scoops. But you never know, maybe Apple will "think different" on this one!
Also the world of social media and mobile has exploded since the early GM-Volt days, so we will have a strong social media presence and offer a dedicated mobile app. We have also launched with an integrated dedicated forum.
ABG: Lastly, and be bold here, when do you think we will actually see the Apple car, and what do you think it will offer in terms of range, battery capacity, and price?
LD: I think Apple is still at the early pre-production exploratory stage and from my understanding of the auto industry they are probably four years from being able to mass-produce a vehicle, so I'd say 2020 for the release. We have speculated the entry level will be somewhere between $54,999 and $64,999. If Apple really presses its battery miniaturization expertise, I could see well over a 200-mile range.