Apple, Elon Musk and interplanetary travel

Apple doesn't need to make cars. Its software -- iOS, Siri, Maps, and apps -- needs to be integrated into Tesla's terrestrial and extraterrestrial vehicles.

Dan Farber
3 min read
Tim Cook and Elon Musk Asa Mathat/All Things D

So, about a year ago Tesla's Elon Musk reportedly met with Apple's mergers and acquisitions chief and maybe Tim Cook. What was on the agenda? The report this weekend in the San Francisco Chronicle didn't have any details on what transpired at the meeting. Perhaps Apple wanted to kick Tesla's tires.

Moving from $600 iPhones and $6,000 Mac Pros to $60,000 automobiles would be a bold move for Apple, but not a moonshot. The two companies are likely a cultural and aesthetic fit, both obsessed with creating breakthrough, eco-friendly consumer products that win design awards and become status symbols.

But the more logical move for Apple is turning the Tesla into another Apple-driven computer, integrating iOS software technologies into the stylish electric car. A partnership approach is more of a Tim Cook move. And, if Apple and Tesla were to join hands, there could be only one CEO. Elon Musk doesn't seem prone to giving up control of his creations, especially at this early stage, or to crave developing personal computing devices. While Apple is thinking $300 iWatch, Musk is launching rockets into outer space and devising 800 mile-per-hour Hyperloop transporters.

Apple might want to come along for Musk's space rides. His Space X venture, which has a goal of enabling humans to visit and live on other planets, could make use of some creature comforts from Apple. When people travel to Mars or other planets via Space X, Apple's entertainment, commerce, and communication services could be integrated into the in-flight systems. Visitors and the local population might tour the planet in a Tesla dune buggy with Siri, Maps, and Apple wearables while listening to dreamy music streamed from iTunes.

This scenario may never happen, but it points to Apple's need to gain industrial strength in vertical markets, not just geographies.

The company can continue to sell tens of millions of iPhones each quarter, especially given the majority of the people on the planet today are without a smartphone. But the bigger opportunity for Apple and its ecosystem is becoming essential not just for people texting, checking news, watching movies, and playing games, but for massive growth areas such as transportation, home automation, and health care.

Apple, as well as Microsoft and Google, wants to be in every car, not just Tesla. The company is betting that iOS users want to have their Apple-ness everywhere. Apple has been working with Audi, General Motors, Ford, Hyundai, and others to integrate iOS in the car. On the health care front, Apple has assembled an elite squad of wearable designers, medical sensor experts, sleep researchers, exercise physiologists, and fitness gurus to create a new platform that works on every Apple device. Late last year, senior Apple executives met with directors at the United States Food and Drug Administration to discuss mobile medical applications.

Apple hasn't yet given indications regarding how it plans to tackle home automation, or interplanetary travel. But it's safe to say that Apple's approach won't involve manufacturing living spaces or spacecraft.