There's been, to use the technical mathematical term, a crapload of speculation recently that Apple is developing a self-driving car. Almost all of this is stemming from one lousy picture of a sensor-and-camera-laden minivan. Never mind that the van is rigged for mapping, or any "facts" like that — Apple isn't registered for an autonomous car in California.
So if Apple is, in fact, testing autonomous cars on public California roads, they're doing it illegally. I know this because I just called and asked the California DMV if they'd issued an autonomous vehicle registration for Apple. They haven't. Then, they did me one better and told me everyone who actually has registered an autonomous vehicle in California:
Volkswagen Group of America
and a new one, Cruise Automotive.
Eagle-eyed readers will likely already have noted that none of those collections of letters spells 'Apple.' It's possible they're working with another company, but I'm not even sure that's likely at all. Cruise is doing their own thing and I suspect that Bosch is working on a third-party autonomous driving solution that they can sell to companies who are unable or unwilling to develop their own system, since that's basically how they've always operated, supplying electronic parts to car makers, like fuel injection systems and so on.
I don't actually think Apple is working on their own autonomous car. I know there's plenty of people out there that do think that, but to me, the idea just doesn't make sense. The biggest question is 'why?'
I know Apple could start an automotive development program. They have so much money they pick up the tab when they have dinner with God's rich Uncle Mike. They have no real robotics background to speak of (the only physical-world interacting things they make are the vibrator motors in iPhones, and the only Apple-endorsed robot sold was a turtle from 30+ years ago) and an autonomous car is absolutely a robotics project.
Yes, they could invest in these fields and hire and buy whatever expertise they need, but to what end? Apple does have an interest in cars, but the interest they have is the one that has the most potential to make them the most money, quickest: car infotainment/navigation systems.
There likely will be Apple products in your car, but they'll be all in that center stack, and when you buy a new car you may find yourself with the option of paying a bit more for an Apple-developed inflationment system that plays very nice with your iPhone and iPad and iPants or whatever.
That makes sense for Apple, it fits with what they do well, and it has lots of potential for success. If there's compelling similar reasons why they should be building entire self-driving cars, I haven't heard it, beyond endless 'wouldn't it be cool if...' speculation.
Could I be wrong? Absolutely. Being wrong is one of the things I do best. Apple could be registered in Nevada, for some reason (we're yet to hear back from the Nevada DMV), or they could be in early-stage testing on a private track, with fun inflatable cars.
All those things are possible, and Apple's certainly surprised us before, though never quite like this. Going into phones from iPods was really not that much of a leap — the hardware was already at least halfway there. Apple's tried their hand at video game systems (I'm writing this on a Pippin as we speak!), televisions, cameras, PDAs, printers, plotters, industrial network servers, and none of those things proved successful.
It's not like Apple has never tried anything outside their core competencies, and it has worked, in a very big way, twice — iPod, iPad, and iPhone — but developing a car — even if they get a Chinese factory to do all the heavy lifting — just doesn't seem to make much sense, or offer Apple any real reward beyond being a really fun way to blow a few billion dollars.