Apple expanded its reach to vehicle production, and this ambitious move captured wide attention among its peers and the media.
Recently, the updates about Apple in-car system upgrading generated a lot of buzz. In this month, it was reported that Apple was working on technology that would allow iPhone to access features such as air conditioning system, speedometer, radio and seats in the car. This is an iPhone-based project codenamed “IronHeart”, which is a further upgrade for the CarPlay system.
Some reports claim that the project is still in its early stages. If the CarPlay system is being successfully upgraded, it could mean that different cars have different levels of functionality. But if Apple wants to make CarPlay the main system for the car, it needs to team up with numerous carmakers. Not coincidentally, Apple’s top automotive executive, Doug Field, departed from Apple for Ford in the middle of last month, and his successor was Kevin Lynch, who was praised for the success of WatchOS software, stepped in to lead the project.
Following a series of Apple’s moves, industry analysts say that if the “IronHeart” project is true, it means that Apple deepens dive into the bottom control system for its smart car. Compared with the difficult-to-produce automotive hardware, the software will be a major moneymaker for Apple first.
For the moment, Apple’s Iron Heart project is similar to Huawei’s Inside project- the HI solution.
What’s Huawei Inside (HI)?
Huawei explains that Huawei Inside, which is also called “HI”, is an all-in-one intelligent automotive solution that will enable vehicles with software functions, and is a smart car co-defined and co-developed with its car partners. Today, there are three car companies that have cooperated with Huawei Inside, Chang’an Automobile, BAIC and GAC.
However, different from Huawei’s repeated reiteration of “it does not make cars”, Apple’s earliest ambition was to “self-develop electric cars”. Rumors of Apple’s first autonomous electric cars will be launched by 2024 is floating around.
Today it seems that Apple has to implement its car project in a roundabout way.
IronHeart: The Evolution of CarPlay
Nowadays, users can control music and GPS on CarPlay, but if they want to know the vehicle information, they need to jump between CarPlay and the built-in system.
CarPlay is only an infotainment system that connects with the vehicle’s control center, while IronHeart is connected with car control center via system and tools to manage the vehicle system.
According to anonymous sources, the main features of IronHeat includes: inside and outside temperature and humidity readings; temperature zones, fans and the defroster systems; settings for adjusting surround-sound speakers, equalizers, tweeters, subwoofers, and the fade and balance; setting for seats; the speedometer, tachometer and fuel instrument clusters, etc.
Some Apple users have complained that they need to jump back and forth between CarPlay and the built-in system of a car to manage key controls. IronHeart is likely to alleviate this inconvenience.
Thus, IronHeart represents an evolution of CarPlay, symbolizing Apple’s in-car system upgraded from traditional infotainment to smart car control system.
Before CarPlay, it is ‘iOS in the Car’ with a very different design
The prototype for CarPlay could trace back to 2013.
Back then, Apple’s project of “iOS in the Car” was exposed, to make sure the project run smoothly, Apple established a shell company- CarPlay Enterprises, which was named after CarPlay, to be in charge of the trademark application of CarPlay.
Next year, Apple officially renamed CarPlay in-car system to iOS in the Car and got it launched at Geneva International Motor Show. At the show, Mercedes-Benz showcased its new car model with CarPlay.
By connecting iPhone with CarPlay-enabled cars, users can access phone calls, music, maps, information and other third-party apps, and get them under control via Siri and the car touch panel. This convenient interaction makes CarPlay the favorite of numerous car manufacturers. Following the lead of Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari, BMW, Ford, GM, Honda and other manufacturers have also made CarPlay one of the configurations of the new car.
In the next few years, CarPlay has been updated but not wowed.
In 2018, the updated CarPlay could support third-party navigation, including Baidu Maps, Google Maps, AutoNavi Maps, etc. In 2019, the updated CarPlay could display multiple apps on one screen, such as maps, music, calendars, etc. And more compatible and accessible improvements had been made in iOS13.
IronHeart may be the most powerful upgrading ever since CarPlay had been released in 2014.
IronHeart takes CarPlay a step further, and this initiative proved the opinion.
A senior analyst at an automotive research institute said earlier that IronHeart could further deepen CarPlay functionality, help Apple software move down to the underlying operating system from the in-car central control system, to connect with the car’s hardware and driving data.
However, as the central control system, the car operating system plays a vital role in controlling the entire automobile data center for car companies.
What determined Apple’s IronHeart initiative succeed or not greatly depends on the automakers’ will to work with Apple.
According to the data revealed by Apple, seven years after CarPlay’s launch, it has achieved a fairly satisfactory result. more than 80% of the new cars sold worldwide last year were supported by CarPlay, with at least 600 models. These include models from well-known car brands such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi.
Complicated and Confusing Apple Titan Project
As for now, Apple’s car plan is still unclear and unconfirmed.
Since the “Project Titan” was revealed in 2014, the market had been talking of the Apple car project every year, but still stuck in the speculation stage. Apple never responded to any information officially.
According to the media reports, Apple had internally modified repeatedly for several times on the car project of producing the entire car or software system and hadn’t released any product.
Media reported that when the “Project Titan” was first exposed, Apple focused on designing its hardware and worked on manufacturing the entire automobile.
At the height of rumors about the ”Project Titan”, McKinsey made a staggering estimation forecast for the project: by 2030, Apple’s “Project Titan” could be worth about $6.7 trillion. As we all know, Apple’s market value is only 2.3 trillion dollars by now.
But soon after, negative news broke out for the Apple car project. In 2016, foreign media reported that internal conflicts, leadership issues and other disputes impeded the car project. Even rumors said that Apple planned to suspend the project.
In 2017, Apple shifted its focus to the self-driving project. One year later, Apple CEO Tim Cooker confirmed this information in a public interview. In November 2018, Cooker acknowledged publicly the fact in an interview that Apple was working on the software system for the self-driving car.
The turmoil still continued. In early 2019, news reports said that Apple had laid off more than 200 employees from its self-driving team, with most of them assigned to other project groups. In June of 2019, Apple acquired self-driving startup Drive.ar and hired a large number of the company’s employees into the self-driving car project.
Losing Valuable Talent
The “seven-year itch” after-effects of the Apple car project still continued. This year, in just seven months, four key executives all left the company.
In September 2021, the top executive of Apple’s car project, Doug Field, left Apple to join Ford, which was an impediment to the already-thorny road of Apple car making.
After Doug Field left Apple, the senior manager of sensor hardware for Apple self-driving car team Benjamin Lyon, Jaime Waydo, who led autonomous car safety, and Robotics engineering team leader Dave Scott all left the company.
Interestingly, Field said in a recent interview that he was happy to join an automaker with a long history. In his opinion, it’s a cool thing to start a brand new car-making company, or to launch a brand new car project from scratch. However, most of these new projects lacked lasting resources and stamina.
Two days after Field’s departure, Apple appointed a new successor to lead the project-the WatchOS top executive Kevin Lynch. This was the latest major shake-up of the “Project Titan”.
As we can see from Lynch’s career life, he is a veteran of Apple, but an outsider of the auto industry.
After working at Adobe for many years, Lynch joined Apple in 2013 and was in charge of smartwatch and health units. It was reported that Lynch had begun to participate in the car project in July this year to help with the software development.
After taking over as the top leader officially, Lynch still reports to Apple’s COO Jeff Williams. While Field reported to the head of the AI unit – John Giannandrea before he left the company.
There has been speculation that Apple has shifted its focus on the development of the basic software required for autonomous cars on the road.
Apple Car VS China’s Huawei and Xiaomi
“A smartphone company that does not make cars is not a good technology company.”
Today, Apple, Huawei and Xiaomi have met on the smart car field.
Some industry analysts believe that as the smartphone market dividend is receding, and the smart car market is developing rapidly, mobile phone manufacturers see the latter’s huge market prospects; besides, mobile phone manufacturers have advantages in the supply chain, and they have experience in the smart technologies, operating system and other respects.
However, the mobile phone maker giants Apple, Huawei, and Xiaomi apply quite different rules in the car-making business.
Huawei empowering other automakers
Huawei repeatedly reiterated that it did not make cars, aimed to work on the core technology integration in the smart car sector with the logic of “empowering” the carmakers. Huawei is in partnership with other car companies in tier1 or tier2 way to supply spare parts and solutions for them.
Specifically, Huawei Inside concept includes smart car digital architecture and 5 smart systems, smart cockpits, smart driving, smart networking, smart electric, smart car cloud services and more than 30 smart components involved, almost covering all core technologies for smart electric cars.
The major domestic auto companies in partnership with Huawei will use the Hi Car system on their cars. Currently, Chang’an Automobile, BAICB JEV, and GAC have cooperated with Huawei to jointly launch a self-driving car brand.
The layout of Xiaomi Electric Car
Compared with Apple and Huawei, in the smart car field, Xiaomi is a later comer but it’s full of ambition.
Unlike Huawei’s “Empowerment“, Xiaomi’s CEO Lei Jun decided to bet another “All in” and said: “This is the last major venture of my life. I am willing to bet my entire reputation in life to personally lead the team for Xiaomi cars!”
Meanwhile, Lei Jun said that Xiaomi will enter into the smart electric car market with an investment of $10 billion over the next 10 years, with an initial installment of RMB 10 billion.
In early September, Xiaomi officially registered Xiaomi EV Inc. which settled in Beijing Yizhuang ETDZ. On the day Lei Jun announced the car making project, he personally served as the executive director and manager of Xiaomi EV Inc.
For Xiaomi with weak car-making experience and resources, investing and acquiring related industry chains is a fast and effective shortcut. Since June this year, Xiaomi had started the “buy buy buy” mode, and autonomous driving became its key project. This included leading the investment in domestic autonomous driving supplier Zongmu Technology and becoming a shareholder of the lidar maker-Hesai Technology.
On August 25,Xiaomi spent about 503 million yuan to acquire DeepMotion, a self-driving technology company, which became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Xiaomi.
Xiaomi told the press that in the past few months, its self-driving car team has conducted more than 2,000 research interviews, visited and communicated in-depth with more than 10 industry peers and dozens of industry partners. So far, it has received more than 20,000 resumes and has established a team of about 300 people.
Maybe it started for a short period of time, Xiaomi hasn’t postponed any product launch yet.
More challenges are expected
By contrast, the eight-year Apple car-making project seems to transform from “Xiaomi” to “Huawei”, for it focused on the entire car manufacturing, but had to shift its focus to basic software development facing the difficult-to-produce hardware. But for Apple which has partnered with many industry automakers, it is a “roundabout way” to play its own advantage.
However, in the automobile field, Apple hasn’t achieved a vantage point that is similar to the smart terminals, which fails to live up to the high expectations from the outside. It has a growing number of competitors, in addition to new energy vehicles like Tesla Inc., Nio EV, Xiaopeng EVand Lixiang EV, large traditional automobile companies like Mercedes-Benz and BMW, and an army of Internet and technology companies that also have the advantage of intelligence are also entering into the market.
For example, China’s OPPO has registered more than 3,000 patents in the IoV-related sectors, and pushed forward the industry chain and talent resource; Sony has finished the development of the VISION-S prototype car and started testing in public road in Europe.
Following the opening of the autumn product launch, Apple may once again dominate the rankings of various smart terminals. But in the car-making field, time is running out for Apple.