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Apple presses the gas on its self-driving car plans

November 19, 2021, 6:03 PM UTC

After seven years of fits and starts in its car department, Apple looks like it has finally settled on a direction.

Apple is plowing full steam ahead on developing a fully self-driving electric vehicle as early as 2025, with a major technological breakthrough lending confidence to the timeline, Bloomberg reported Thursday. If Apple meets its ambitious deadline, the company could position itself ahead of autonomous driving competitors like Tesla and Waymo, which also are racing to develop similar technology.

By honing in on fully self-driving cars, Apple would skip intermediate steps such as those taken by Tesla, which currently has semi-autonomous cars on the road that require a driver manning a steering wheel. As Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman said in a BloombergTV interview, that’s par for the course in Cupertino.

“That’s what Apple does, right? They only enter new product categories when they’re able to come out with a leapfrog product,” Gurman said. “You saw that with the original iPhone, you saw that with the iPad, you saw that with the Apple Watch. Now it’s the car’s turn. And they want to release something that really no one else has really been successfully able to nail.”

The report about Apple delivered a Thursday afternoon mini-jolt to Apple’s stock, which shot up about 2% immediately after publication. Apple’s share price climbed again Friday, eclipsing $160 in midday trading for the first time in the company’s history.

Morgan Stanley’s auto analyst Adam Jonas took immediate note of the development, writing to investors that “it remains our ‘working assumption’ that Apple will, one day, enter the electric shared-autonomy space in transportation.” Dan Ives, a tech analyst for investment firm Wedbush Securities who has been bullish on Apple’s venture into autos, put Apple’s chances of debuting a standalone car at 60% to 65%, according to Axios.

However, a healthy dose of skepticism remains about whether the news portends a major leap or more smoke and mirrors.

The Appleverse delivered a tepid response across Twitter, Reddit, and company-focused forums, questioning the aggressive timeline and practicality of self-driving vehicles. The prevailing sentiment: We’ll believe it when we see it. (“I think it’s more likely I’ll be riding a rocket-propelled space unicorn in 2025,” one dubious MacForums user wrote.)

There’s good reason to approach the news with caution. Apple has been here before, with reports leaking out early this year that the company could partner with another automaker to get an autonomous car on the road by 2024. Gurman on Thursday described Apple’s 2025 target as “fluid.”

Big questions also remain about manufacturing and a potential business model. Apple isn’t expected to build its own auto factory, so yet-to-be-announced partnerships would be required. It’s also unclear whether Apple would sell directly to aspiring vehicle owners or create a fleet of shared cars.

Still, Thursday’s news marks clear momentum in a long-stalled side of Apple—and a shot across the bow of its would-be competitors in the space.

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Jacob Carpenter

NEWSWORTHY

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State officials aren’t liking Instagram these days. A bipartisan group of state attorneys general is investigating whether Instagram’s techniques for keeping young people hooked on the app broke consumer protection laws, The New York Times reported. The top lawyers in 11 states are leading the charge, with an undisclosed number of additional attorneys general backing the inquiry. The announcement follows numerous stories detailing internal research and documents showing Facebook and Instagram knew about the harmful effects of the apps on some users, including teenage girls whose body image issues were exacerbated by extensive use of Instagram.

Pressure mounting on Activision Blizzard. About 1,300 Activision Blizzard employees have signed an open letter published Thursday calling for the ouster of CEO Bobby Kotick amid allegations that he mishandled sexual assault issues at the video game developer. Microsoft’s executive vice president of gaming, Phil Spencer, also pressed Thursday for action at Activision Blizzard, saying the Xbox producer is “evaluating all aspects of our relationship” with the company. The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Kotick misled Activision Blizzard’s board about an employee’s rape allegations and subsequent settlement, an allegation refuted by board members. Activision Blizzard also faces multiple investigations by regulatory bodies into other allegations of sexual assault and mistreatment of female employees.

Roku joins the original content party. Roku plans to develop 50 original shows over the next two years as the streaming hub aims to boost revenue from customers who use its devices, The Wall Street Journal reported. With the move, Roku would join Apple and Amazon in the dual market of selling streaming devices and producing original content. Roku plans to produce scripted and unscripted shows on budgets similar to basic cable, which is less than some of the most expensive fare on Netflix and HBO Max. Roku has dipped into the content business in the past few years, most notably with the acquisition of ill-fated Quibi’s shows.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

That’s not very consumer-centric of you. Amazon’s internal information systems became so unwieldy and poorly managed that vast troves of consumer data were put at risk of disclosure—with some nefarious employees taking advantage of the lax oversight, according to a report by WIRED and Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting. The issues became so bad that Amazon’s former chief information security officer called the environment a “free-for-all” of internal access to customer information. While Amazon hasn’t experienced a breach anywhere near the Equifax hack of 2017 or Cambridge Analytica scandal of 2018, it has been vulnerable to attack. Amazon executives responded that the work of identifying internal data security issues illustrates the company’s commitment to improvement.

From the article

Across Amazon, some low-level employees were using their data privileges to snoop on the purchases of celebrities, while others were taking bribes to help shady sellers sabotage competitors' businesses, doctor Amazon's review system, and sell knock-off products to unsuspecting customers. 

Millions of credit card numbers had sat in the wrong place on Amazon's internal network for years, with the security team unable to establish definitively whether they'd been unduly accessed. 

And a program that allowed sellers to extract their own metrics had become a backdoor for third-party developers to amass Amazon customer data.

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BEFORE YOU GO

The EV rollercoaster is still running. Pity the faint-of-heart investor in electric vehicle upstarts. The industry’s two hottest stocks, shares in Rivian and Lucid, continue to yo-yo, even as media attention on them fades a bit. After a torrid IPO last week, Rivian’s share price dropped 15% Wednesday, fell another 16% Thursday, then bounced up 12% as of early afternoon Friday. Lucid’s trajectory during that time: down 5%, down 10%, up 12%. The two upstarts, neither of which boasts any meaningful revenue, made huge gains prior to their declines as big and small investors alike piled into the EV market. Enjoy the ride, folks.

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