Tesla and Apple, What are the Odds?

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Apple Inc. and Tesla Inc. have a lot in common, but there’s much to be desired — oddly enough — when it comes to how their products work together.

Both companies are known for design, advanced technology and a controlling approach to their ecosystems. Tesla’s cars use a giant iPad-like screen instead of physical controls, and customers can use a smartphone as their key. It’s also steadily moving toward autonomous driving. That’s led people to call Tesla the Apple of carmakers. Elon Musk even tried to sell Tesla to Apple, and consumers frequently say that a Tesla is an “iPhone on wheels.”

Supercharging Stations As Tesla Inc. Readies Production Boost
Tesla car interior and touch screen.
Photographer: Bloomberg

But for Apple users, the experience of owning a Tesla can be frustrating.

Tesla’s iPhone app is certainly capable, allowing users to remotely unlock their car, control the climate and manage charging. The ability to use your iPhone as your car key is also nifty. But once you’re in the car — where you truly want integration — the compatibility mostly disappears.

If you’re an Apple fan, chances are you’re familiar with CarPlay and subscribe to Apple Music. If you also own a Tesla, you know that your car supports neither feature.

You can’t access Apple Music through a dedicated app in a Tesla — even though that’s offered for Spotify. Instead, you have to stream directly over Bluetooth. While you can control volume and skip tracks, you can’t easily access your entire library or find playlists the way you can with other cars. The most you can get is a list of songs from the current playlist or album.

It appears at least some engineers inside Tesla were aiming to get Apple Music support up and running. In December, references of support for Apple Music briefly appeared in Tesla’s in-car software. But Apple and Tesla don’t yet have traction on actually launching the option.

Day Two Of The Geneva Motor Show 2014
Apple CarPlay being used in a Ferrari.
Photographer: Gianluca Colla

CarPlay (and Android Auto for that matter) is also nowhere to be found. On its website, Apple touts that CarPlay is available in over 600 models, including those from “every major automobile manufacturer.” Obviously that’s not true: At any given time, either the Tesla Model Y or the Model 3 is the best-selling electric car.

The lack of Apple Music and CarPlay support in Teslas comes down to decisions from the carmaker rather than Apple. Teslas are the de facto car of Apple’s office parking lots (outside of the executive section), and Apple employees would love nothing more than to get their Apple Music and CarPlay fix.

Apple has been trying to get its services on any device or in any car that will have them, and Tesla integration would be a clear win for Cupertino. Apple Music is already built into the Porsche Taycan, as well as Android, smart TVs, and speakers from Google, Amazon and Sonos.

Tesla doesn’t want to give up control of its interface, but I don’t think having CarPlay in, say, a small window would hurt the experience. Perhaps Tesla is worried that adding CarPlay could expose users to Apple services and therefore be a risk when Apple eventually ships its own vehicle. Still, it’s puzzling.

In addition to CarPlay and Apple Music support, there are other areas where the two companies could align. Tesla could choose to support Apple services like TV+ (Tesla already offers Netflix) and Apple Podcasts. Apple, on the other hand, could offer Tesla deeper integration with Apple Maps, better highlighting Tesla’s network of chargers.

Apple CEO Tim Cook, Oracle’s Safra Catz and Tesla head Elon Musk.
Photographer: Bloomberg

The biggest barrier to an Apple and Tesla accord is probably Musk himself. In 2015, amid Apple’s first attempt to build a car, Musk said that Apple is the graveyard for ex-Tesla staffers. He has lambasted Apple’s App Store policies and the Apple News app, and slammed the company on a recent earnings call.

Cook and Musk say they have never spoken or interacted, despite sitting just feet away in a meeting with Donald Trump in 2016. “I have great admiration and respect for the company he’s built,” Cook recently said of Musk to the New York Times. “I think Tesla has done an unbelievable job of not only establishing the lead, but keeping the lead for such a long period of time in the EV space.”

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The two companies may also see each other as future rivals. Apple is building an electric car and plans for it to hit roads later this decade. Musk may not be too pleased that Apple’s project is run by his former chief vehicle engineer, Doug Field, along with his former heads of car interiors and exteriors, Autopilot software and drivetrains.

If Apple and Tesla can’t come to an agreement, I think they should still work together behind the scenes. They could improve the syncing of text messages from iPhones to Tesla’s in-car system and actually allow the music app to drill down into an iPhone library.

There is clearly some strain between the two companies. But for now, the main people losing out are consumers.

The Bench

Apple finally makes a major App Store change to lessen antitrust concerns. I’ve probably written at least a dozen times that Apple’s quickest move to lessen antitrust concerns — and appease a large chunk of developers — would be nixing its anti-steering rule. That rule bars apps from pointing users to external websites to complete purchases of subscriptions, which would mean bypassing Apple’s 15%-to-30% cut. Well, on Wednesday night, Apple said it would do just that.

Starting early next year, Apple will let “reader” apps — for video, music, news and other media — point users to their websites to sign up for services. That means Spotify and Netflix could have a button in their apps to point users to a site to sign up and pay.

Let me be very clear: I think this is a major and welcome change from Apple. It’s the exact opposite of their “concession” in August that changed basically nothing.

I would have thought that this move would appease Spotify, but their top executives have already taken to Twitter to say Apple didn’t go far enough. The company is still accusing Apple of stealing its sensitive business information, giving preference to Apple Music and not giving developers access to all of its app programming interfaces.

Tim Sweeney, the CEO of Epic Games, said something similar, but he has a stronger case: This move doesn’t fix his concerns over Fortnite because the change doesn’t apply to games. Nonetheless, that may not matter. U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers said during the Epic-versus-Apple trial that Apple should consider the very change it just made. If this gesture does enough to keep Apple from losing to Epic, the company got everything it needed.

But I don’t think it’s the end. I’d imagine there are a few more things Apple will alter in the App Store. I’m not expecting the company to further cut its fees, allow sideloading or bless third-party App Stores, but I can see Apple loosening its restrictions on apps sending push notifications to users for advertising purposes (like it does for its own services). It also may allow more third-party apps to be set as system defaults on iOS and give more leeway to cloud-streaming gaming services.

Apple to deploy iPhone satellite features for emergency uses. After nearly five years exploring how it could work with satellites, Apple is gearing up for its first related launch: emergency features for the iPhone. Apple is working on at least two approaches: transmitting short emergency texts and sending SOS distress signals for crises, like plane crashes or sinking ships, in remote areas.

While some have speculated that the functionality will show up this month with the iPhone 13, I’m told we won’t see the features go live until next year. That doesn’t mean hardware support won’t be embedded this year, but don’t expect your iPhone to save your life for at least several more months.

Some have asked me if these new features mean that the iPhone can be used as a satellite phone and have the ability to make calls anywhere in the world without cellular coverage. The answer is a big no. That’s not happening now, next year or anytime in the near future. Launching such a feature would require hardware not ready for prime time, would be expensive and could cause a revolt from the phone carriers that Apple relies on.

The emergency features will only work in areas without any cellular coverage and only in select markets. Apple envisions eventually deploying its own array of satellites to beam data to devices, but that plan is likely years away from taking off.

Source: Bloomberg