Will Apple’s culture allow the company to produce highly-reliable software for Apple Car?

“When discussing the heavily-rumored Apple car, software expertise is one of the company’s oft-cited advantages in its attempt to make a dent in the car industry,” Jean-Louis Gassée writes for Monday Note.

“What we’ve grown to accept in our personal computers can’t be allowed in a vehicle carrying human beings at 60 miles per hour,” Gassée writes. “Just because the software running inside Apple’s personal computing devices is considered high quality doesn’t mean that the culture that produces it is capable of producing the high-reliability, real-time embedded software needed for an electric car. I am one of the many who believe culture always wins. Culture eats strategy for breakfast, it causes mergers and acquisitions to fail and, above all, it resists virile executive calls to change. Culture evolves slowly, as if having its own independent will, or not at all.”

“The bottom line is this: For the hypothetical Apple Car project to succeed, a necessary (but not sufficient) condition is a culture change of a kind rarely, if ever, achieved by large organizations,” Gassée writes. “Perhaps the new software culture could arise in a new, separate group, well protected against the corporate lymphocytes always prone to attack what they see foreign objects. But that would break Apple in two separate cultures, and be the beginning of a dangerous process for a company that, today, strives on having a united functional organization.”

Much more in the full article – recommended – here.

MacDailyNews Take: Good point. The tolerance for software faults is far higher for a multi-ton, fast-moving vehicle than for a MacBook, an iPhone, or an Apple TV. A spinning beachball or a random restart will not be tolerated (or perhaps not even be survivable) at 75 MPH.

This will be one of Apple’s greatest challenges.

Open letter to Tim Cook: Apple needs to do better – January 5, 2015


  1. Apple: Study 1960s NASA and how man went to the moon, back when America was truly great, before the emasculated pajama boys like Oblahblah infected and ruined the country.

    1. Ah yes, the good old days of US apartheid – before we had to give the damn darkies equal rights.

      If only we could roll things back even further, before uppity women and their pussy-whipped supporters thought women should be considered people and be able to vote.

      And the damn unions, stopping us working young children for 60-70 hours a week.

    1. Anything that Apple does has to be better than Microsoft Sync or anything Android “for Car”.

      Unlike Microsoft, Apple won’t attempt to merge its desktop/laptop PC OS with its tablet OS with its phone, home, and car OS.

  2. JLG has a point when it comes to needing absolute reliability in software for self-driving vehicles, but if you agree with that point, the question needs to be “Who is best placed to write software sufficiently reliable for that purpose?

    Most sane people would rule out Microsoft or Google. Few car manufacturers have written software with anything like the complexity that we’re talking about here and their efforts so far have often been lacking.

    My opinion is that Apple will not initially try to produce an autonomous vehicle, but will offer an electrically powered vehicle with a specialised and sophisticated OS to control it’s functions. Once they are proven in the real world, it would be possible to add driver assistance and eventually autonomous abilities.

    1. Absolutely, this idea of a universal self driving vehicle culture is still science fiction and will be long after we have an Apple car. We will get more and more autonomous aspects creeping into cars slowly but surely and truly autonomous cars will o doubt operate in the shorter term in very regulated sitiations and environments but its still quite some time off before it will be a regular part of our roads.

      1. If you are not aware of it, the self driving vehicles have been doing well in the farming industry that has put thousands and thousands out of work. Self driving planters, cultivators and harvesters go for miles with a variance of 2 inches, far more efficient than the operators. This is not a “last couple of years” technology but for the last 10 years.

        The “not trusting” car manufacturers for the technology is more out of fear in what current mfg’ers do with cost/accounting/probabilities than making things right. The technology is there and it will be used and instituted soon enough. I would rather it be Apple than GM/Ford/MS/Google.

        1. There is a huge difference in automating farm equipment that drive pretty much alone up and down a farmer’s field and automating a car that has to navigate through city traffic.

          The biggest challenge in automated cars is the unpredictability of other drivers. If every car was automated, it would be much simpler as each car would speak a common language and their actions would be predictable. Through people into the mix and it is a nightmare.

          1. “If every car was automated, it would be much simpler as each car would speak a common language and their actions would be predictable.”

            The marketing clowns will never stand for that.

    2. The NASA has great expertise in life critical system. Apple would have the cash to develop 3 different software by 3 isolated teams. For each decision, you need to have at least 2 systems that agrees or else a human needs to decide. It sounds weird and expensive, but it worked very well for NASA.

  3. Apple may be known for pushing things out quickly year after year, but they are also known for attention to detail and being security conscious. They know the risks of poor security and will make every effort to harden their software against malicious intrusion. They also know how to take their time and make certain a product is ready to bring into the light of day. The first iPhone is an example. So different from everything before it and nearly perfect at that time. Yes, some units had software glitches, but the vast majority worked like a charm and were magical in their implementation. It was only after Apple decided to make a new phone eery year that things got rushed. Such won’t happen with vehicle software as there is no need to rush out a new product every year. Security consciousness, attention to detail, and a sense of pride where ‘good enough’ is NOT good enough will have Apple creating a vehicle that people will trust and enjoy.

  4. Can’t Apple simply hire talent for whatever it needs to do? Why does it have to be tied to some old culture when there are plenty of new, talented people to be had? Apple can place an ad for a person it needs to sort out some specific problems. They’re bound to find someone who can help them.

    1. Apple should look at the talent in the farming industry. Cotton pickers that cost half a million dollars for harvesting cotton – these pickers use technology that has been around for a decade. Farming implements go for miles off road with a variance of better (less) than 2 inches. Current technology in autos rely upon speed and trajectory of oncoming vehicles to determine if brakes are needed. That technology is already here.

      People who work on these problems and situations are already at work in the industry.

  5. My Tesla has been operating flawlessly. In fact, while driving I can even reboot the SW and it still drives flawlessly. SW is not as critical as you might think.

    Autopilot on the Tesla (released just a week or two ago) is labeled beta. Beta! Again, car SW is not as critical as might think.

    During Autopilot drives in the rain the autopilot had quite a few problems with disappearing white lines……during which it went quite haywire. I had to wrestle control with the car and takeover. Again, car SW is not as critical as you might think.

    Until we get to the point where we can press the button and go to sleep…..SW for a car is not going to be all that critical.

    In any case no one is going to release a feature that that is “critical and totally new”. They will have “a form of that feature” operating quite benignly in the car before using that feature in some critical function. In Tesla’s case, for example, they introduced a feature called “lane departure detection” several months ago. This indicated,with a gentle buzz of the steering wheel, every time you went over (or almost over) a white line without indicating. This feature was benign. With the release of “Autopilot” it is now used in a “critical” way. This is an incrimental method of developing SW. Apple is absolutely brilliant at incremental changes..as well we should all know.

    Look for example at the liquid metal formed SIM tray ejector clip. This is a benign little clip used to test how well it can be formed in mass manufacture. This will eventually lead to a “critical” component formed out of liquid metal.

    BTW, even though no piece of SW is perfect, iTunes is a remarkable piece of SW that moaners on this board have not yet figured out. I have absolute faith in Apple that they will live by their, “we just want to build great products”, mantra. Including iTunes and car SW.

  6. “iTunes is a remarkable piece of SW that moaners on this board have not yet figured out.”

    You must have not been around when Windows people were saying the same thing about Mac users who stood up for ease of use. It went something like this “Windows is a wonderful piece of software that Mac toy users can’t handle and who think that they shouldn’t need a 3 pound owners manual for the operating system, etc. etc.” I was there and defended our operating system. Not so much any more, have been a Mac user since 1988, and because of the perceived need for ever growing numbers of “features” OSX is less reliable with every upgrade, in my opinion. I depend on it to make a living, and ALL of my creative work is done on 3rd party apps (hooray for the 3rd party developers who are bombarded every few months with yet more changes….for the sake of change? )

    Am i going to change?, no, its still the only game in town because of the 3rd party apps that I use, but I have little or no use for the Apple apps, thinking of going out of Apple Mail because of bugs being “fixed” by upgrade and then getting new bugs every time. I don’t think that they have a handle on how to integrate OSX and iOS and how to keep them all synched, especially if, like me, you have OSX desktop, laptop, iPad, and IPhone. Mostly I keep iOS devices out of the loop in terms of synching the content from apps like Mail, Notes, Calendar etc. You can delete something on one, and have no guarantee that it will not re-appear a day later…Photos, e-mails etc. I do all my serious work on OSX even though I have the issues talked about above. I can only spend just so much time dealing with the equivalent of a several hundred page “owners manual” Thats for old fashioned Windows people, not Apple people, but we are now as complex and un-owner friendly than they are.

    I worked 20 years in the auto business, the last 10 on a factory level, and the real life driving issues in terms of the range of operating conditions that they have to deal with on a day to day basis are far more complex than something like iTunes, which I avoid unless I absolutely have to.

    Beware of what you wish for. I will stick with my 2004 vehicle technology, just enough to be useful, but not intrusive. I DO know better how it should be driven and my non-accident record proves it. Not willing to be a guinea pig.

    1. I disagree. Windows was crappy because it crashes and locks up. As demonstrated in live MS onstage demos. It was also crappy because you spent all day trying to sort it out. Nothing like this happens for iTunes. It is just you don’t know how to use it NOT that it is entirely unusable like the Windows stuff.

      I didn’t read the rest of your reply since I find your arguments to be totally old discredited arguments. But I did see something about being a Guinea pig. Again an old and discredited argument which I assume is aimed at Tesla. All I got to say there I definitely don’t feel like a Guinea pig…..I feel like Ed Straker in 1999.

      1. ” Nothing like this happens for iTunes.”
        The interface requires far to much time to learn.
        Not the Mac way. Fragmented and disorganized like Windows.
        If you didn’t read all of my post, I don’t know why i am replying, but…..its already done so I will hit the send button.

  7. The issue with automobiles is fundamentally different than everything else that Apple has done. This is because of the much more public hue and cry about bugs.

    For decades Apple has been able to get away with using New and Shiny to cover up longstanding shortcomings. Apple could get away with kneecapping the multiple-monitor features of Final Cut and Motion by using this slight of hand (focusing on cool new additions while ignoring longstanding flaws).

    If the media, including Car and Driver and just about anything else, points out shortcomings, Apple will be much more responsive than to criticisms of such low-profile complaints as the dumbing down of Keynote. It is tougher to ignore a complaint when it involves a $45K automobile that, as an Apple product, would be under intense scrutiny.

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