Is an Apple car the next iPod or the next Apple Television?

Apple Car iPod Apple Television

Where does a car fit in Apple’s plans? The iPod represents one possible comparison: It was a pivotal product that moved Apple from being just a computer company, and it set the table for the iPhone. Or it could be like the Apple Television, which represented an obvious entry point but into an otherwise unattractive market — but it never happened.

More than technology, Apple is all about concrete, profitable growth. If a car is coming, our predictions have to reconcile with that.

“It’s very clear Apple has ambitions to build a car,” says Gene Munster, Managing Partner of Loup Ventures and a cogent Apple watcher. “It was not clear six months ago.” But ambitions can come in many forms. If it did make a car, Apple would certainly contract out the actual manufacturing, as it does with its electronics products. It may focus on one part of a car as its signature, much as the original iPhone was differentiated by its full screen user interface and operating system, while it lagged in copy and paste, 3G and other features.

One path the company will almost certainly avoid is contributing to another brand of car. “Licensing models are a lot easier to approach,” says Munster, “but it’s just not in Apple’s DNA to do that.”

The timing of a car may be more lax than many breathlessly predict. “I think it’s important to make a distinction between when Apple works on something compared to when it sees the light of day,” says Munster. Compounding that deliberate approach is the fact that battery prices keep falling, working in Apple’s favor as it decides whether car-making is compatible with its remarkable run at building corporate value.

One way Munster doesn’t expect to see an Apple car is as a partnership with Tesla, as logical as that might be at an industrial level. The two companies are headstrong and committed to undiluted visions of their products, so not necessarily good collaborators.

Watch the embedded video to see me walk through the pros and cons of the most difficult thing to predict about Apple.

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