Apple CEO Tim Cook: 'Massive change' is coming to the car industry

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Apple is continuing to tease its automotive ambitions.

Speaking at The Wall Street Journal's WSJD Live conference in San Francisco on Tuesday, CEO Tim Cook predicted there would be "massive change" in the automotive industry in the coming years - but didn't comment on rumours about Apple's own electric car project.

Right now, it's clear that Apple is working on developing a car. It has made numerous high-profile hires in the auto space - it recently forced a motorcycle startup to close down after pinching many of its employees - and has been scouting out potential test sites for self-driving technology.

According to The Wall Street Journal, it is now a "committed project" with a tentative shipping date of 2019, although this may yet change.

At WSJD Live, Cook played up the use of software in vehicles. "When I look at the automobile, what I see is that software becomes an increasingly important part of the car of the future," he said. "You see that autonomous driving becomes much more important."

The Alabama-born CEO framed Apple's interest - at least in the short term - in this software. The Cupertino company already offers CarPlay, a kind of mobile operating system for car infotainment systems. "We'd like people as they enter their car to have an iPhone experience in their car ... I don't know what kind of car that you have today, but the interface provably isn't in the top ten list of what you love about your car."

He added: "The industry is at an inflection point for massive change ... not just evolutionary change."

In early October, Cook was asked point-blank about Apple's car plans, apparently codenamed Project Titan. NPR host Robert Siegel asked: "Is there going to be an Apple car?" Cook was evasive, repeatedly asking if Siegel had any other questions.

But an Apple car does gel with executive interests. Jony Ive, now promoted to the newly created position of Apple chief design officer, has been complaining about American cars for years. Ive owns numerous classic cars, according to a New Yorker profile earlier this year, and feels "disappointed with most modern cars."

newson car ford flickr/davepinter

Ive is joined in his distaste for modern cars by his old friend Marc Newson, a legendary designer. Newson has previously designed a concept car for Ford - and in Autumn last year, he finally joined Apple. In an interview in August, he said the American car industry is "at the bottom of a trough."

In an interview last year, Cook said "there are products we're working on that no-one knows about ... And part of some of those are going to come out and be blow-away probably."

And speaking at the Re/code tech conference in May, Apple executive Jeff Williams said the car was "the ultimate mobile device" in response to a question about what industries the company was exploring.

Williams went on to frame his comment as relating to Apple's in-car media platform Car Play, so it's not a cast-iron confirmation that Apple is looking into automotive technology. But the Cupertino company was also making similarly vague statements about the "wrist" long before the Apple Watch was officially announced. Same thing with the "wallet," which presaged the launch of Apple Pay.

The late Apple cofounder and CEO Steve Jobs always wanted to build a car, telling The New York Times before he died "that if he had more energy, he would have liked to take on Detroit with an Apple car."

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