Apple car is abandoned, what to do with so many patents?

Estimated read time 8 min read

Apple has been having a tough time lately.

On March 4, Apple was fined 1.84 billion euros by the European Union on the grounds that the company had anti-competitive behavior in its music streaming service and violated EU antitrust regulations.

The recently released Apple Vision Pro is also facing a bad start. According to a survey of social media X users conducted by the news website Cult of Mac, 45% of users who purchased Vision Pro said they would return it.

Of course, the biggest news about Apple is probably its “abandonment of building cars” – this news not only shocked the entire technology circle, but also made the “Apple Car” the largest “unfinished” project in the history of Apple.

It is reported that in the ten years of building cars, Apple has invested a total of more than 10 billion US dollars (about 72 billion yuan) and applied for numerous patents for the project. Now that we have given up building cars, will all the investment we made have been wasted?

Apple is a company that is very good at exploring the potential of technology, or laying out new technologies in advance for new products. For example, the lidar (LiDAR) on the Vision Pro was used by the iPhone and iPad a few years ago.

Therefore, although the Apple car has come to an end, the technology it has accumulated is likely to appear in new forms in other products.

CarPlay: The spiritual continuation of Apple’s car

In 2014, Apple launched Project Titan and officially entered the field of car manufacturing. Although Apple Car has never been publicly unveiled, everyone has actually seen the soul of Apple Car – the system software.

In the same year that Project Titan was launched, Apple launched CarPlay and officially entered the field of Internet of Vehicles.

For a long time, CarPlay was the only product that the outside world could associate Apple with cars, so its UI design, feature updates, etc. were often regarded as a preview of Apple cars. Today, with the cancellation of Apple Car, CarPlay has become the only weapon of Apple’s ecosystem in the automotive industry.

For many electric vehicles with incomplete engines, or fuel vehicles with only a simple screen, supporting CarPlay is the easiest way to improve vehicle intelligence. Especially in the US market, supporting CarPlay has almost become the most important intelligent function of a car.

To use Apple’s original words at the 2022 WWDC (Apple Worldwide Developers Conference): In the United States, the penetration rate of CarPlay models is 98%, and 79% of American consumers said they would only buy models that support CarPlay.

In China, thanks to the high penetration rate of new energy vehicles, many car models have become quite practical, so the presence of CarPlay is not high. However, it is worth mentioning that Xiaomi SU7, which was unveiled at the end of last year but has not yet been officially released, also supports CarPlay, and its rear screen can also be connected to an iPad, which is enough to show that Apple’s ecosystem still has a strong influence in China.

In January this year, developer Steve Moser dug deep into the iOS 17.4 Beta 1 update released by Apple and discovered 8 new applications for the next generation of CarPlay in the code. At that time, some insiders believed that some of these features might also appear on Apple cars.

For example, the Auto Settings App allows users to manage paired iPhones and adjust vehicle settings; the Car Camera App can display the vehicle’s rearview camera; the Charge App can display the car’s remaining battery power, Charging status, estimated battery charging time and other information; Climate (temperature) App can control the vehicle’s air conditioning system, such as temperature, wind strength, heated seats, heated steering wheel, etc.

Although these functions are already quite common in domestic new energy models, these new functions of CarPlay are still quite practical for the United States and other markets where fuel vehicles still dominate. And, regardless of whether an Apple car will be born or not, they are one of the basic functions required for an electric car.

The better CarPlay is used, the more it attracts users, and the more Apple’s ecosystem can be extended to cars, even though Apple no longer makes cars. This may be why Apple has been so focused on maintaining and updating CarPlay for the past ten years.

But the CarPlay crisis is not without it. In April last year, General Motors announced that it would cancel Android Auto and Apple CarPlay in its upcoming electric vehicles. GM hopes to create an electric vehicle revolution through its own operating system and cooperate with Tesla Wait for competitors to compete.

As car companies pay more and more attention to car engines and smart cockpits, and begin to gradually control the “soul” themselves, it is difficult to say how far CarPlay can go.

Vision Pro: The “posthumous child” of Apple’s car

In addition to software, many of Apple’s hardware technologies can also be continued.

In 2018, Apple released a report titled “Ten Years of Patents: Apple Demonstrates Incredible VR Experience System for Next-Generation Self-Driving Cars,” which included virtual reality-related patent applications for the first time. The publicly searched patents include: “Enhanced Virtual Display Technology”, “Immersive Virtual Display Technology”, and “Enhanced Virtual Instrument Technology”.

At that time, there were still five years before the official debut of Vision Pro, and speculation about Apple’s virtual reality device was still vague, and Apple also pointed out in the report that the application scenario of this technology was in automobiles.

Apple said in the patent content that with the support of VR technology, people can work, read, and even hold meetings remotely while driving in the car, and can also reduce motion sickness by adjusting the virtual environment.

In May 2021, an Apple patent titled “Hidden User Interface” surfaced. This patent shows that Apple’s car may hide all touch interfaces, or use new technology to make them “transparent”. Only when the user touches the interface, those “transparent materials” will light up. From there, it becomes an operable touch screen. At the same time, after the switch is activated, some hidden cameras can also project vehicle information in the cab, allowing the driver to learn the most detailed information at the first time.

For people who suffer from motion sickness, Apple has even applied for a patent called “Real Scene VR Anti-Motion Sickness Wave”, which allows people with motion sickness to wear special VR glasses in the car, so that they can feel like reading a book on the sofa.

Everyone knows what happened later. Apple did not launch a VR product, but released a more innovative mixed reality product (MR) Vision Pro. The above-mentioned functions, such as information projection, real-scene VR and other virtual reality functions, have already appeared on Vision Pro. Obviously, they most likely have something in common in terms of technical implementation. This is also the technology integration that Apple was very good at in the past – integrating technology into different products will often produce different chemical reactions.

Of course, many of the technologies in cars are quite different from Apple’s current products, making them difficult to transfer and reuse, such as autonomous driving. 

Patents that cannot be implemented

Apple has been building cars for ten years, and autonomous driving has been throughout. Now that it has given up building cars, it is difficult to integrate related technologies into other products. After all, whether it is iPhone, Mac or Vision Pro, they have no wheels and cannot move by themselves. It is difficult for autonomous driving to find a use.

In the past, Apple has published a number of related patents to welcome the arrival of the driverless era. For example, on the car body, Apple cars will be equipped with various detectors with sensing functions. One of the detectors is even specially designed to shoot towards the ground. By detecting ground conditions, it adjusts the angle and direction of the tires to reduce the vibration frequency of the vehicle body.

Inside the car, Apple has also modified the doors and airbags. In Apple’s vision, when the vehicle no longer needs to be driven, passengers need to sit across from each other, so the airbag will be designed in the middle of the vehicle, and the doors will become split and can be automatically controlled.

From 2019 to 2020, Apple also obtained a number of automobile suspension patents. Apple hopes to improve the ride comfort of passengers under different driving conditions by adjusting the softness and hardness of the suspension, and even slow down motion sickness and reduce tire wear. In addition, there is a patent for an “active suspension system” – the vehicle will actively adjust the suspension after detecting the current road conditions to keep the occupants in the vehicle comfortable at all times.

However, similar functions of these patents have been implemented by new energy vehicle companies such as BYD Yunnan body control system. And as Apple gives up building cars, there is a high probability that this type of technology will be hidden and will be difficult to appear on other Apple products.

All in all, in the ten years of car manufacturing, Apple has invested huge human, financial and time costs. As an independent product, Apple Car obviously failed, but the technological legacy it left behind also helped Apple to recover to a certain extent. suffered some losses.

Although the Apple Car will no longer appear, its spiritual successor will live on in many Apple products.

You May Also Like

More From Author

+ There are no comments

Add yours