Did Tim Cook Just Wordlessly Announce the Apple Car?

"We have ramped up R&D because we are heavily investing in the future."

Getty Images / Drew Angerer

Everyone but Apple itself is talking about Apple’s car. The neighbors are talking about it. Elon Musk is talking about it. And now, albeit carefully, CEO Tim Cook himself is talking about it.

On Saturday, the Washington Post published a lengthy interview with Steve Jobs’s successor. Among the highlights is the fact that Cook thinks about his own death on a regular basis, that Siri is getting wise, and that déclassé privacy is bad. But the real treat was Cook’s cryptic response to Jena McGregor’s straight-faced assertion and subsequent question. “There’s been a number of reports about Apple’s car project… it almost seems like an open secret. Why not say something about it?”

Apple’s philosophy has long been that it would not share details about any of its products before their release. Most of the time, the secret stays a secret, though sometimes it gets out. When a company like Apple buys up property in populated Californian areas, conceals what’s inside, and said facility emits strange noises at odd hours of the night, though, the secrecy suffers. The best guess is an electric car, and Musk’s two cents seem to confirm everyone’s suspicion. Plus, Apple’s great at competing with Google, and Google’s already shared its own self-driving car prototype.

Cook’s response, though, is in keeping with his company’s strategy:

“I can’t answer a question about something we haven’t announced.”

But then: “[Laughs.]”

Rarely has the inclusion of a bracketed chuckle in text said so much. McGregor, sensing an opening, pushed Cook, hoping to pry something, anything out of the tight-lipped man. He held strong:

“We’ve always viewed that people love surprises. We don’t have enough anymore in our lives.”


Tim Cook.

Getty Images / Justin Sullivan

But, earlier in the interview, Cook — of his own accord — seemed to offer some additional insight.

“Products? We purposely don’t talk about that one. But you can imagine. Step back and say what’s Apple so great at? Apple is the only company that can take hardware, software and services and integrate those into an experience that’s an ‘aha’ for the customer. You can take that and apply to markets that we’re not in today.”

One market that Apple is “not in today” is the car market. And the car market would be a great place for Apple to “take hardware, software, and services” and combine them into an awe-inspiring product.

Elsewhere in the 7,000-plus-word interview, McGregor asked Cook about research and development. “R&D spending is now greater than what the 14 largest automakers spend, combined,” she said. “What’s the most exciting technology out there to you right now?” Cook demurred:

“That one I don’t want to answer, because it would give too much of an insight into the things we’re doing. But we have ramped up R&D because we are heavily investing in the future — both in current product lines and things that aren’t visible as well, including in services. In due time, some of those things will be visible.”

So, while Cook did not directly confirm the existence of an Apple car, he came damn close. And in “due time,” we may learn how much one costs.

In the interim, there are always Teslas.

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