Tag Archives: apple car

Apple Car Talk Starts Making Sense

When I think about Apple building a car, I’ve got to wonder why. Why would Apple step past its consumer electronics sweet spot, investing billions of dollars over many years before coming close to a return on the investment? I believe that Apple CEO Tim Cook might be the kind of guy who wants to develop something meaningful for the world — more than entertainment or fashion devices.

The Apple car rumor gained some legs this week with a Wall Street Journalreport that brings some interesting new insight.

Though a bit shy on verifiable details — it cites unnamed people familiar with Apple’s plans and vaguely refers to people inside Apple — the report suggests the company will triple its current 600-person team to 1,800 people as it ramps up its car development effort, code-named “Titan.”

Previous Apple car reports have linked Apple’s hiring of automobile experts to Titan, with some assuming that Apple even poached some employees from Tesla.

Earlier rumors also made the assumption that Apple was developing a self-driving car, but the Journal’s latest story indicates the first Apple car won’t be fully autonomous.

It also establishes a timeline, sort of. The target ship date is 2019 — though there is some doubt about whether that’s accurate.

All along, it’s been expected that the rumored Apple car will be electric.

So, Is Apple Building a Car or Not?

Apple has not confirmed any plans to build a car, but the evidence has been mounting.

Apple execs recently met with the California Department of Motor Vehicles to discuss the state’s regulations for autonomous vehicles, according todocuments obtained by The Guardian.

Emails obtained by the Journal not only corroborate that report, but also reveal Apple’s interest in booking a time slot to use GoMentum Station, which is training space for next-generation autonomous vehicle sensors and driving systems.

From what I’ve seen, this represents the latest smoking gun evidence that Apple is serious about building a car.

However, working on a car is a long way from actually delivering a car. Case in point? The long-rumored next-generation Apple TV.

For years, rumors suggested that Apple was building its own HDTV-like Apple TV — and many people believed them. After years of buzz, that’s not what Apple announced to the world this month. Instead, it presented a refinementof its existing Apple TV set-top box, making it more powerful and adding an app store.

So might we see an Apple car by 2019? That’s hard to imagine — especially if Apple obsesses over all the details as it tends to do when building its products.

Isn’t Building a Car Too Difficult for Apple?

Cars have a lot of moving parts and a lot of regulations, and if there’s one thing that I’ve noticed about complicated industries, the key players tend to exhibit a bit of hubris over how hard their jobs are.

College engineering students build interesting cars and car components all the time, and they tend to lack resources like money, space, tools and a human workforce. I would argue that — especially for a company with Apple’s billions of dollars worth of resources — building a car isn’t that hard at all.

Getting it right, on the other hand, and making a meaningful leap forward — well, that will be hard.

Yet Tesla has done it. Tesla not only produced an interesting electric vehicle, but also created something even harder — Tesla delivered the Model S. I don’t care who you are, the Model S is a damn fine-looking automobile. I’m a pickup kind of guy myself, but the Model S exudes an interesting blend of sexy-but-refined aggression. My point is, Tesla has created its own niche while also creating a desirable product.

So I wouldn’t count Apple out of the car game any time soon. In fact, Apple has an extraordinarily complicated and efficient supply chain that criss-crosses the globe. Regulatory compliance and logistics? Apple is a company that has the discipline to handle those issues.

What about not the rumor of not producing a game-changing fully autonomous car? Why back off on that vision and compete with so many other manufacturers, especially while Google is working so hard on its own self-driving car?

I don’t think Apple has a need to be first. Being first is a more of a bonus than an end goal. While Apple has paved the road for plenty of consumer electronics segments, it clearly has trailed the work of others. Case in point? The new iPad Pro. The keyboard cover and form factor aren’t new, nor is the notion of a stylus. However, the iPad Pro most definitely will be more profitable than every other competitive product in its segment.

Apple’s playbook seems to be to produce a product that’s pretty damn good and that’s also profitable. Then it refines it as consumers get used to the segment, making it better and better.

A natural progression with a car would be to get the batteries and the battery ecosystem right — not to mention consumer desire. That’s step one. Step two is to add in driving-assistance features, heading toward self-driving vehicles. If Google does all the work to get consumers and governments to accept self-driving cars… I think Apple would be fine with that, swooping in later to scoop up most of the profit.

Which Brings Us to Why Build a Car?

When I think about Apple building a car, I’ve got to wonder why. Why would Apple step past its consumer electronics sweet spot, investing billions of dollars over many years before coming close to a return on the investment?

I believe that Apple CEO Tim Cook might be the kind of guy who wants to develop something meaningful for the world — more than entertainment or fashion devices. I’ve never met him, of course, but everything I’ve read about him or heard him say in interviews leads me to believe that he cares about producing meaningful products. So, I don’t find an Apple car a leap at all.

On the contrary, it’s almost inevitable, because a car is a discrete product that people buy not only with practicality in mind, but also with emotion — areas Apple excels in. Plus, the car is at once loved and hated. It’s a necessary evil that contributes to environmental chaos — and where there are passions and problems, there also can be profits.

Cars represent a product that Apple can build that would be in line with its core skills and yet also effect meaningful change within five or 10 years. If you think ahead to the sky and beyond, a car is just another step to critical new products and Apple ecosystems.

So like I said, I don’t think an Apple car is a leap at all.

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Apple Presses Ahead With Efforts to Create Car, Though Big Issues Remain

Apple is continuing its efforts to create a car, though some of the big questions around the project remain undecided.

The company is still working out whether it will make a self-driving car, an electric vehicle or a combination of the two, according to a person with knowledge of the product, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, as Apple is known for its intense secretiveness. It is not unusual for Apple to work on several prototypes of a product at the same time, as it did with the iPhone and the iPad.

Other details of the car project are falling into place. Apple is committing hundreds of people to the effort, and meeting with officials of the California Department of Motor Vehicles and of a testing ground for self-driving cars, said the person with knowledge of the work. The Wall Street Journal and The Guardian previously reported on those developments. Apple is aiming to introduce some sort of car product around 2020, several people with knowledge of the project said.

Apple declined to comment for this article.

Since reports that Apple, the world’s most valuable company, was working on a car surfaced in February, the auto and tech industries have closely watched any progress, because Apple could transform the car industry the same way it did the mobile phone industry. Vehicles, which are essentially turning into moving computers, could be a huge new platform for technology companies. Google and Uber are both working on self-driving vehicles.

At the Frankfurt International Motor Show this month, carmakers were obsessed with what the nonauto companies like Apple and Google might be developing. Detroit has come a long way since the financial crisis, and advanced sensor-based safety features are available on many models of cars from Ford and General Motors. But none of them have the software expertise of a company like Apple, and they do not want to be stuck manufacturing the bodies of the vehicles while another company controls the more lucrative software.

“We do not plan to become the Foxconn of Apple,” Dieter Zetsche, the chief executive of Daimler, told reporters at the auto show in Frankfurt.

Sergio Marchionne, the chief executive of Fiat Chrysler, has sought a relationship with Apple. This year, he met with Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, during a three-day trip to California. In an interview this spring, he called companies like Apple and Google “disrupters.” After a speech this spring, he said of the technologies they were inventing: “It’s not science fiction. They’re coming.”

Mr. Cook has sidestepped questions about a car.

Apple has about 600 employees working on the undertaking, called Project Titan, according to a person with knowledge of the project. Apple is deploying more internal resources to Titan, pulling people from other projects, like the Apple Watch, to work on it, said two people with knowledge of the plans.

Apple executives recently met with the California D.M.V., which in 2012 was tasked with promulgating self-driving car regulations. In a statement, the department said the “D.M.V. often meets with various companies regarding D.M.V. operations. The Apple meeting was to review D.M.V.’s autonomous vehicle regulations.”

Apple engineers have also met with officials from GoMentum Station in Concord, Calif., which is known as a testing ground for self-driving cars, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting. The Guardian earlier obtained documents about the meeting.

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Apple Presses Ahead With Efforts to Create Car, Though Big Issues Remain

Apple is continuing its efforts to create a car, though some of the big questions around the project remain undecided.

The company is still working out whether it will make a self-driving car, anelectric vehicle or a combination of the two, according to a person with knowledge of the product, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, as Apple is known for its intense secretiveness. It is not unusual for Apple to work on several prototypes of a product at the same time, as it did with the iPhone and the iPad.

Other details of the car project are falling into place. Apple is committing hundreds of people to the effort, and meeting with officials of the California Department of Motor Vehicles and of a testing ground for self-driving cars, said the person with knowledge of the work. The Wall Street Journal andThe Guardian previously reported on those developments. Apple is aiming to introduce some sort of car product around 2020, several people with knowledge of the project said.

Apple declined to comment for this article.

Since reports that Apple, the world’s most valuable company, was working on a car surfaced in February, the auto and tech industries have closely watched any progress, because Apple could transform the car industry the same way it did the mobile phone industry. Vehicles, which are essentially turning into moving computers, could be a huge new platform for technology companies. Google and Uber are both working on self-driving vehicles.

At the Frankfurt International Motor Show this month, carmakers were obsessed with what the nonauto companies like Apple and Google might be developing. Detroit has come a long way since the financial crisis, and advanced sensor-based safety features are available on many models of cars from Ford and General Motors. But none of them have the software expertise of a company like Apple, and they do not want to be stuck manufacturing the bodies of the vehicles while another company controls the more lucrative software.

“We do not plan to become the Foxconn of Apple,” Dieter Zetsche, the chief executive of Daimler, told reporters at the auto show in Frankfurt.

Sergio Marchionne, the chief executive of Fiat Chrysler, has sought a relationship with Apple. This year, he met with Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, during a three-day trip to California. In an interview this spring, he called companies like Apple and Google “disrupters.” After a speech this spring, he said of the technologies they were inventing: “It’s not science fiction. They’re coming.”

Mr. Cook has sidestepped questions about a car.

Apple has about 600 employees working on the undertaking, called Project Titan, according to a person with knowledge of the project. Apple is deploying more internal resources to Titan, pulling people from other projects, like the Apple Watch, to work on it, said two people with knowledge of the plans.

Apple executives recently met with the California D.M.V., which in 2012 was tasked with promulgating self-driving car regulations. In a statement, the department said the “D.M.V. often meets with various companies regarding D.M.V. operations. The Apple meeting was to review D.M.V.’s autonomous vehicle regulations.”

Apple engineers have also met with officials from GoMentum Station in Concord, Calif., which is known as a testing ground for self-driving cars, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting. The Guardian earlier obtained documents about the meeting.

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Apple’s electric-car project speeds ahead

Apple’s plans to build a car are heating up, with hiring expected to ramp up and a ship date targeted for 2019, according to a new report.

Apple appears to be driving ahead with plans to build its first car.

The electric-car project, code-named Titan, is now targeting a ship date of 2019, and Apple gave leaders of the project approval to triple their 600-person team, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday, citing people familiar with the matter.

A “ship date,” though, doesn’t necessarily mean the date customers get a product, the Journal reported. Instead, that term could mean “the date that engineers sign off on the product’s main features.” So, the unveiling of an Apple car may be far down the road.

Apple declined to comment Monday on the Journal’s story.

 

Apple’s ambitions to potentially build a car first came out in February, with new leaks reported regularly since then. Apple — the most valuable company in the world by market capitalization — has been hiring auto industry veterans for the project throughout the year, bringing on people from battery maker A123 Systems, automaker Fiat Chrysler and others, according to several reports. Bloomberg earlier this year said that Apple was planning to have a car ready for production as early as 2020.

The car is quickly becoming a major battleground for new technologies, with many tech and auto players looking to add more gadgets, displays and smarts to future vehicles. Autonomous cars areexpected take over roads in the coming generation. With the Titan project, Apple is likely hoping to become an important leader in shaping the future of automobiles, instead of taking a backseat to incumbent automakers.

The new project could become Apple’s most ambitious effort into a new market, following the company becoming a major player in smartphones and tablets. Despite Apple’s $200 billion in cash reserves and ability to hire droves of auto experts, however, questions remain about whether Apple could become a car seller. For one thing, it’s unclear who would build Apple’s vehicle if it does become ready for production. Most auto companies operate their own production facilities, with only a few small contract factories available. Apple tends to contract out its production work and doesn’t operate factories.

In typical Apple fashion, the company has been mum about any future plans about a car. After bringing on Apple CEO Tim Cook as a guest on “The Late Show” last week, host Stephen Colbert prodded the executive about the alleged car project. Cook dodged the question. (Editors’ note: “The Late Show” and CNET are both owned by CBS.)

“We look at a number of things along the way,” Cook responded, “and we decide to really put our energies in a few of them.”

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Apple Car May Have a Smart, Sensor-Equipped Windshield

The Apple car buzz got louder last week, when Global Equities Research analyst Trip Chowdhry circulated a note suggesting that the company might be developing a windshield-sized heads-up display loaded with sensors. It appears that Apple has been on a real estate and hiring binge in the San Francisco area, lending some credence to rumors that a self-driving Apple-mobile may be in the works.

Apple might be working on a heads-up display for windshields, Trip Chowdhry, managing director of equity research at Global Equities Research, said in a note sent last week to the firm’s clients.

It will have built-in sensor technology, and the entire surface will function as a HUD. It may be a “completely new device,” he wrote.

The display measures between 27 inches and 50 inches and might be gesture controlled, Chowdhry told TechNewsWorld.

The largest iMac has a 27-inch screen, while an automobile windshield measures about 50 inches, he noted.

Talent Flocking to Apple

Meanwhile, Apple is scarfing up real estate in the Bay Area and probably is working on at least a couple of high-intensity projects — most likely in a couple of disguised buildings in Sunnyvale or Santa Clara, according to Chowdhry.

Apple also has been aggressively hiring smart engineers from various industries, he said, noting that the acceptance rate of job offers at Apple exceeds 90 percent compared to the Silicon Valley average of about 40 percent.

It’s not because Apple is luring them with money, either, Chowdhry suggested. Apple’s high acceptance rate probably has “more to do with the projects these people may be working on. There’s a lot of money in Silicon Valley, and any company can throw money at job candidates.”

Nothing New to See Here?

The Apple HUD rumors may be little more than noise, suggested Roger Lanctot, an associate director of research at Strategy Analytics.

“Everything described or illustrated has been shown by car makers or their suppliers previously,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Auto manufacturers last year offered HUD technology in 38 different models, primarily luxury vehicles from Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi and Lexus. The technology also is trickling down to the family car market. It’s available in the 2014 Mazda3 and the 2015 Hyundai Genesis, for example.

Suppliers such as Continental Automotive Systems and Panasonic Automotive are working on newer HUD systems, and some suppliers are offering augmented reality technology.

“Apple has hired enough talent to put some sort of concept together, but as for whether it’s aftermarket or OEM-targeted, nothing is clear,” Lanctot said.

“There is nothing new here — no cold fusion, no perpetual motion — just something that looks like 2D heads-up tech already available or in development elsewhere,” he pointed out. “This is some sort of Apple obfuscation exercise. The only thing that’s unclear is whether it’s a deliberate leak from Apple.”

HUD Technology’s Prospects

While HUDs today are “very dumb displays that are an extension of the instrument cluster, next-generation solutions are expected to be smart enough to integrate displays from the center stack, the instrument cluster, and the HUD from a single multimedia controller,” said Tom Hackenberg, a principal analyst at IHS.

Because those OEM design concepts depend a lot on integration strategies, they “might be of interest to Apple in conjunction with CarPlay controls or combined with Siri or gesture recognition,” he told TechNewsWorld.

A single HUD could incorporate 1080p graphics quality in a large-screen format, “but the value proposition seems limited to advanced driver assist,” Hackenberg said. “Anything beyond very basic information could easily be considered distracting.”

Sensors would be integrated systematically as part of the Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, he added, noting that it’s “possible but not practical” to embed expensive sensors into the glass of the HUD itself.

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Apple Car Evidence Piles Up

It’s possible that Apple’s car project may be more advanced than anyone watching the company previously guessed. “If the rumors are to be believed, then Project Titan might be further than just a baseline electric vehicle and might be including self-driving capabilities,” said Praveen Chandrasekar, telematics program manager with Frost & Sullivan. The result might be a “Tesla-like” connected car.

Apple is in the process of scouting for locations outside of San Francisco to test an autonomous vehicle it’s developing, The Guardian reported last week.

Documents obtained by the paper suggest the oft-rumored Apple car project could be much further along than previous reports have indicated.

Giving credence to that view is the fact that engineers in Apple’s Special Project group earlier this year met with officials from GoMentum Station, a 2,100-acre facility that used to be a naval base. Work already is under way to transform the site, which is near San Francisco, into a high-tech, high-security testing ground for self-driving cars, The Guardian said.

The facility, which was established in 1942 as the Concord Naval Weapons Station on the shores of the Sacramento River and served as an armament storage depot during the Second World War, already features nearly 20 miles of paved roadways.

It was closed in 2007, but the Intelligent Transportation Society of America last year announced that the site would be turned into a proving ground for autonomous vehicles.

Even if the rumors of an Apple self-driving car are true, it’s not the only company eyeing the site as a testing facility, however. German automaker Mercedes Benz announced a partnership with the City of Concord and the U.S. Navy to utilize GoMentum Station.

Titanic Project?

Rumors of Apple’s self-driving car, codenamed “Project Titan,” have circulated for some time, but the documents obtained by The Guardianrepresent the first “paper trail” that suggests the project is really in the works.

The fact that Apple chief executive Tim Cook has had meetings with auto industry executives in recent months adds greater credibility to the reports.

“With Apple, all they have to do is wink at something and rumors pop up, but with that much money you can do anything you want — so why not develop a car?” asked Jim McGregor, founder and principal analyst at Tirias Research.

“It may be out of their area of expertise today, but we’re seeing that Google and other tech companies are getting involved,” he told TechNewsWorld.

For Apple, it may represent a way to break into new markets as well.

“Apple is running out of steam with personal electronics. The watch isn’t doing that well, and most other areas are dominated by low-margin products,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

“Apple looked at TVs hard but didn’t like what they saw at all,” he told TechNewsWorld. “So cars — high-end electric self-driving cars — appears to be one of the areas they are exploring for growth.”

How Far Ahead

Of particular interest is the suggestion that Apple’s car project may be more advanced than anyone watching the company previously guessed.

“If the rumors are to be believed, then Project Titan might be further than just a baseline electric vehicle and might be including self-driving capabilities,” said Praveen Chandrasekar, telematics program manager withFrost & Sullivan.

Apple would have to play catch-up with Google — which no doubt is much farther ahead on the sensor, mapping and solution side, with more than a million miles of road testing — but Apple has very similar capabilities, Chandrasekar told TechNewsWorld.

“Going by everything Apple is trying to do on Project Titan, the end result might be a Tesla-like high end EV model with a lot of connected services and computing power to achieve different levels of automation,” he added.

“The key here is to see the convergence of Apple Carplay, Homekit, Watch and the patents that Apple has around tactile user interfaces that are reprogrammable, which gives them amazing capabilities,” Chandrasekar explained.

The race to develop a vehicle may be a natural evolution for tech companies, and the business strategies for the players could reflect their current positioning, which would suggest that Apple would opt to produce a premium automotive product.

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Apple car clues emerge from letter to test facility

The persistent rumours about Apple building some kind of car have felt at times like they were powered purely by Apple fans desperate for something new and exciting,

So far we’ve only had theories and mock designs, rather than any actual evidence something was happening.

But now we have something firm: The Guardian newspaper has got hold of correspondence between Apple engineer Frank Fearon and officials from a car testing facility GoMentum Station.

“We would … like to get an understanding of timing and availability for the space, and how we would need to coordinate around other parties who would be using [it],” the newspaper quotes Fearon as writing. The note was sent in May.

GoMentum Station is in Concord, a city a good 30 minutes’ drive north east from San Francisco.

It’s a facility specifically set up to test driverless car technology. There’s 20 miles or so of road which recreates some real-world scenarios. This video from Honda gives you a good insight into the place.

Project Titan

So what does it tell us about Apple’s car ambitions?

Not much – but it does at least offer, for the first time, some concrete evidence that plans are in motion.

Google Maps view of GoMentum
GoMentum Station – an ex-naval testing site – seen from the air

Until now, we’d only known that Apple had hired a couple of car industry experts into its ranks, apparently working on something called “Project Titan” – although this has never been confirmed by Apple.

So the letters from Fearon – himself an autonomous vehicle expert – to GoMentum Station at least lends some credibility to the rumours.

“We are hoping to see a presentation on the … testing grounds with a layout, photos, and a description of how the various areas of the grounds could be used,” the letter reads.

GoMentum are, naturally, under a strict non-disclosure agreement about the project, but they did confirm to the Guardian that Apple are “interested”.

Highly disruptive

And why wouldn’t they be? Apple’s vice-president Jeff Williams said earlier in the year that the car is the “ultimate mobile device” – a space you’d assume Apple would be desperate to be in.

The question is the extent of what they are building. Are they, as some have said, intending on creating an entire Apple-made car?

Or are they perhaps content with providing sophisticated software for already-established car makers to use in their vehicles?

Car makers are understandably keeping a close eye on things. Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne told the BBC earlier this year that Apple’s pursuit of the car market would be highly disruptive.

Whatever the approach, it’s safe to say we won’t find out much more until Apple is absolutely ready. GoMentum, in keeping with its military roots, has armed guards stationed at the facility 24 hours a day.

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Battery builder A123 Systems sues Apple for poaching employees, implies Apple Car is happening

Lithium-ion battery manufacturer A123 Systems has sued Apple, alleging that the smartphone and tablet manufacturer has been poaching its employees. Some of you may remember A123 Systems high-profile bankruptcy from several years ago — the company collapsed in 2012 after a meteoric ascent. Post-bankruptcy, A123 Systems was bought by Chinese conglomerate Wanxiang, and it has continued to develop battery technology and win customers for its stationary installations through the present day.

A123’s complaint alleges that five of its top researchers have been lured away by Apple in violation of their noncompete agreements. Said agreements (we’ve reprinted part of one below) forbid an employee from working for any competitor of A123 Systems and forbid employees who leave the company from soliciting their fellow co-workers from jumping ship alongside them.

A123 then states that it believes Apple “is currently developing a large scale battery divisionto compete in the very same field as A123,” that it began poaching A123’s employees in June of 2014, and that it has also recruited employees from LG, Samsung, Panasonic, Toshiba, and Johnson Controls (these, apparently, have chosen not to file suit). One particular defendant, Mujeeb Ijaz, is accused of actively recruiting the other four, putting him in double-violation of the non-compete.

A123 Systems Noncompete clause. The only thing worse than reading it is writing it.

The company then steps through the various steps it took before filing a lawsuit, including formally notifying Apple that it believed an employee had breached their contract and its discussions with a third company that first alerted it to the possibility of employee poaching. More interesting, from the technical perspective, is what this says about Apple’s potential car plans.

Expertise is hard to find

If you wanted to poach employees for a major battery initiative, you could do far worse than A123 Systems. While the company was initially blamed for the collapse of Fisker and its ill-fated Fisker Karma, later information suggested that Fisker had plenty of its own financial problems. A123 Systems insists it delivered every battery Fisker ever ordered and paid for.

Fisker Karma 3/4 left panning

If you want to build an electric vehicle, you need a team of people with significant expertise in the field. While renewable energy and rechargeable batteries are hot topics these days, many of the experts in the industry already work with (or partner closely) with existing auto manufacturers or companies like Tesla. It’s easy to see how Apple might have opted to co-opt other talent to design its products rather than launching a new effort entirely from scratch. A123 may have focused more on stationary batteries after its bankruptcy, but the company still has a foot in both camps.

This also highlights some of the thorny issues with non-competes that we’ve discussed in other contexts. Communicating with other employees in an attempt to lure them away from existing jobs is a fairly clear-cut violation of one’s contract, but only one employee is accused of that. Whether A123 Systems can prove that Apple poached its workers or not may depend on their responsibilities and the scope of the technology they’re working on — assuming that Cupertino doesn’t just pay a sum of money to settle the issue.

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