Rumors abound this week that deep in some subterranean base – or possibly its new spaceship campus – Apple is hard at work on its own version of a self-driving/electric/Skynet-style (delete as applicable) car.
As with anything that appears in the feverish tech press, it has to be stressed that this is early stage speculation and Apple is obviously one of the favorite subjects for this activity. The sources seem to be mounting p, however, and the reality of an Apple car could hold some interesting potential for the country’s creative industries.
Apple and Entertainment
Like it or loathe it – and most unabashedly love it – Apple has revolutionized the way we consume music, movies, and almost every form of entertainment.
The combination of iPod and iTunes at the turn of the century led listeners to the light of paying for digital music, albeit in a highly fragmented way that the record industry’s leaders disliked at first. The harsh reality of Napster, piracy and illegal MP3 hosting quickly forced their hand and Apple had a green light to usher in the era of digital music: single track purchases, popular playlists, and thousands of songs at your fingertips.
Fast forward five or six years – in which time video also came to iPods and movies on a mobile screen slowly became a reality – and Apple unveils the iPhone, bringing apps into the equation and turning several industries on their head once again.
MP3 players are still used to this day, but content has effectively moved on to our phones and/or into the cloud, as the Cupertino company led the transition from physical to digital.
This potted history is intended to remind us just how much Apple has driven new methods of content consumption over the past 15 years.
And while the company has yet to translate iTunes’ dominance of digital downloads to the world of streaming, its 2014 acquisition of Beats Music and subsequent hints at a Spotify-style service are certain to put Apple back in the contemporary entertainment game at some point this year.
In short, where Apple goes, entertainment follows, even if the brand sometimes takes its sweet time to make the move.
Here In My Car, I Can —
That’s the question on the keyboards of the tech press, what will Apple do if it crafts its own car?
Immediate analogies to Google’s much publicized self-driving car are inevitable, as are comparisons to Tesla and Elon Musk’s promise to revolutionize the auto industry. What’s intriguing for those of us closely tied to creators, however, is how Apple could bring a new era of entertainment to the driving experience, especially as it relates to iTunes, streaming media and the Internet of Things.
In many ways the car could be the missing link between consuming content at home and what we enjoy on-the-go. Many services have made efforts to make switching between listening on a mobile device to a home system seamless, for example. But when it comes to the car, which is used by so many Americans for their daily commute, there’s a disconnect.
A mobile device can of course be plugged in to a car’s stereo system and used in a similar way to commuters who use headphones on their way to work, but that’s an inelegant solution for companies as technologically sophisticated as Apple and Google, both of whom should be expected to integrate their other areas of expertise like mobile operating systems and personal organizers into any vehicular projects they’re working on. So where now people ditch their phone in the side pocket and switch to vehicle-specific media solutions like CDs, Sirius XM, built-in Pandora, or even trusty old AM/FM radio stations, the smartphone could become the hub of entertainment in the connected car of the future.
Beyond audio, the self-driving element of next gen vehicles opens up a world of possibilities for visual entertainment. Restricted to DVD players in the back for the kids on current models, if the car is in control its cabin becomes more of a movie theater than a major responsibility for the driver. This opens up a lot more time for watching movies, business presentations, checking out content streams on sites like YouTube or social networks, and any other prevailing streaming media activity that is already popular on laptops and mobile devices.
If all of this seems far-fetched, it may be here sooner than you think. Google has already tested its prototype self-driving car and is in the process of negotiating it legally on to the roads of California. And, if reports are to be believed, Apple would like to have its top secret automobile project on the road by 2020. Given that it’s only five years since the iPad launched, this huge leap forward in our driving experience could even become a reality before Apple breaks the trillion dollar valuation that everyone expects.
This is a boon for content creators because it makes it more likely that consumers will begin to pay more for the streaming media they consume. Or, if not paying more per person, more people paying overall so that the revenue pie itself increases in size. Where some may hold off from Spotify – or Netflix, or Audible – at the moment because they don’t use their mobile device much to consume content, getting it into their car and turned on for the daily commute could quickly convince a large number of Americans to purchase more, or stump up for a monthly subscription so that they’re free to switch up their tastes on a daily basis.
With streaming in general proving a high potential solution to curbing piracy, as recent surveys in Scandinavia demonstrate, a connected car could be the final feather in its cap to bring leading services into the mainstream. And with an experienced digital entertainment brand like Apple at the wheel, it’s exciting to start thinking about what Tim Cook and co. might be baking into the Apple Car, iCar, or whatever the media is calling it this week!