Since 2020, analysts have been speculating on when will Apple officially enter the automobile industry, in oppose to “if” it will. Although the Cupertino tech giant has never mentioned the development of an autonomous electric vehicle (EV) or technology related to EVs, it has filed more than 200 patents related to self-driving and vehicle software and hardware.
A new investigation conducted by Nikkie Asia and a Tokyo analytics firm, Intellectual Property Landscape revealed that from 2000 till June 1, 2022, Apple has applied for and published 248 automobile-related patents.
Research shows Apple is focusing on three areas for its automobile-related technology
According to the report, the tech giant is filed for multiple auto-related patents in six categories since 2000:
- Communication and automotive navigation – 36 patents
- Self-driving and sensing – 18 patents
- Door, seat, window, and lighting – 16 patents
- Connection with iPhone, augmented reality – 13 patents
- Battery and heat management – 4 patents
- Other – 13 patents
Based on the company’s filings over the years, Nikkie Asia has broken down Apple’s progress in automobile-related technology into three areas: vehicle-related patents, connected cars, and V2X technology.
The company started with a focus on improving connectivity between iPhones and cars, and navigation, and launched CarPlay in 2014 but from 2016, it began to file applications related to autonomous driving.
In 2017, Apple began testing its own technology in this area, using production-model cars on public roads in California. Patents for which Apple applied in 2017 included those for entering traffic on highways — a particularly difficult task for which Toyota Motor and other automakers have filed patents, citing Apple’s own patents.
Like the iPhone and iPad, it is said that the Cupertino tech giant wants to make better autonomous cars. Many of its patents describe tech for materials and parts to produce windows, seats, and other components to make users’ driving experience more comfortable.
As Apple’s late co-founder Steve Jobs said, the iPhone “reinvented the phone.” Now the company appears keen to transform driving in the same way by developing fully autonomous driving. This could conceivably include a virtual reality system that lets people in a car hold video conferences while cruising down the highway.
Lastly, the third element that the tech giant is focusing on is the development of V2X technology to ensure users’ or passengers’ safety. The V2X tech is the next generation of connectedness “between cars, between cars and roads, between cars and pedestrians, and between cars and the cloud” to improve the safety of autonomous EVs by quickly collecting and processing information on pedestrians in blind spots, traffic lights, and other elements.
The application of V2X-related patents offers a glimpse into Apple’s attempt to rethink the driving experience and, importantly, safety.
However, the tech giant’s efforts to break into the automobile industry are viewed with skepticism. While on one hand, analysts expect Apple might launch its first autonomous EV between 2025 – 2027 and will transform the automobile industry, others like Volkswagen’s CEO believe that it might never happen because it is a “big effort”.