back to article Talk about left Field: Apple lures back Tesla engineering guru

Doug Field, Tesla's VP of engineering, and the man in charge of the Tesla Model 3 until May, is to rejoin Apple, the tech titan confirmed this week. The move strengthens the view that Apple's stalled car initiative may have been pushed back onto the road. Unofficial Apple PR conduit Daring Fireball said it believed that " …

  1. DougS Silver badge

    Cue Elon Musk

    Claiming the guy was let go rather than quit. He's said that before when engineers leave Tesla for other companies with self-driving ambitions, like Apple, Google, Uber, etc.

    1. macjules Silver badge

      Re: Cue Elon Musk

      True, but Musk has actually delivered an electric car or two. Apple seems to be going down the Faraday Future route with nothing to show for all the work done so far bar a 'possible' electric VW van.

      I think A.O's comment that Apple is more concentrating on a 'car platform', to be embedded in cars made and sold by other people, is more valid. VoxelNet looks like it might be a better alternative, or at least it would allow UberLabs to concentrate on detecting whether a passenger is drunk or not while leaving the LIDAR bit to Apple.

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Re: Cue Elon Musk

        Apple started work on the iPad in 2002, but knew it would be years before it could be manufactured at a reasonable price for the quality they wanted so they changed directions to do a phone first. It took five years from the start of that to the iPhone seeing the light of day, eight for the iPad.

        So forgive me if I cut them a little slack on seeing something come of this. Tesla is still years away from an autonomous car, as is everyone else, so it isn't like Apple is losing any ground in a market that doesn't exist. Unlike Tesla, they have no interest in selling an ordinary human driven electric car, so no one is going to see what they're doing until it is VERY close.

        The rumors go back and forth about Apple, first they were doing a car, then they were doing a 'platform', now they are doing a car again. Apple is a company that sells hardware, they don't license their stuff to run on someone else's hardware, so personally I think they will do a car.

        1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

          Re: Cue Elon Musk

          I think their first step is to continue integrate Siri to control and automate certain features of automobiles. Sure it can do maps, music, phone, and other iOS apps but they'll want it to be able to control other things like the heater/AC, defroster, seat settings, headlights, fog lights, change to/from sport or economy modes, maybe even automatically operate the directional signals for turns indicated by the mapping app. There's a lot of things left that can be integrated while ensuring the integrity of the basic safety systems. I have a feeling that it will matter who gets there first be it Siri, Google, Alexa, Tesla, or some upstart.

    2. lee harvey osmond

      Re: Cue Elon Musk

      ... and for all we know, and for all the article’s title “Apple lures back ...”, maybe the reason why he quit is ... Elon Musk.

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Re: Cue Elon Musk

        Yeah from the looks of things, working for Musk combines the worst parts of working for Steve Jobs (screaming, abuse, impossible deadlines) and Donald Trump (bizarre public statements and tweets, persecution complex)

  2. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    "A.I. is hard..."

    ... , especially outdoors.

    (Applies to self-driving cars.)

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tesla has plenty of problems...

    ...and so does Apple. Unfortunately for Apple, under proprietary law Dan Field can not use anything useful that he learned or developed at Tesla for at least five years. Apple has even less chance of developing a top notch autonomous vehicle than Tesla which has a very low chance as they are unlikely to escape bankruptcy, lawsuits, production issues, etc..

    The SEC is investigating Elon Musk's latest tweet about taking the company private which appears highly unlikely but was successful in jacking share price.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Tesla has plenty of problems...

      Apple has even less chance of developing a top notch autonomous vehicle than Tesla

      That was the point of the article - Apple are not going to develop a car, nor are they doing to make the AI to drive a car. They went there, saw the problems, and realised it was never going to offer a payback.

      What Apple want is to control the human interface of future vehicles - entertainment, information, navigation, and the telemetry side of things. They know they need to control the hardware modules that the system runs on, and the car makers then need to be able to link that to what they've built. In theory its a good bet, because hardware makers (including car makers) are universally shit at software.

      The difficulty is that development timescale and support lives in automotive are an order of magnitude different to what Apple is used to in its existing products and services. There's the whole certification and safety needs that are "red line" requirements. And there's the fact that Apple don't like having to work with other parties that have significant control over implementation. Agreeing to work with (say) BMW on car systems is all very well - execs can agree this over a well padded lunch - the reality will be a stark difference of corporate cultures that makes progress slow and difficult. In this respect, Field's experience or product design at Tesla is of mixed value - he knows the systems issues, but getting things done at Tesla is worlds apart from working with the rest of the car making industry. And Apple need to work with multiple players - just getting their system into one brand might give the volume they want (say VW Group) but that would be a single buyer - a high risk strategy, and doesn't play to the premium segmentation Apple have always wanted.

      As I write that, it seems that in-car systems isn't a good fit at all for Apple - it might defend the walled garden a bit, but the whole concept is B2B sales (that Apple are not good at), varied hardware environments (that Apple don't like), risk averse, cost conscious partners who move at glacial speeds (that Apple will struggle to work with), and to get the volume to make it economic, there can be little segmentation of the end users (which challenges Apple's high cost, high markup, high value customer model). My expectation is they'll get the software platform well advanced, maybe even have demonstration versions custom built into driveable vehicles that can be show to the press. Then they'll find all those challenges remain, and they'll conclude that the benefits to Apple are outweighed by the costs and risks, and they'll either shut it all down, or reposition as a much more modest entertainment and satnav platform with modest integration for vehicle settings, so that what is then nothing more than software and a better touchscreen can be sold as a $2,000 option. That would fit the segmentation model Apple have, fit with their expertise and margin requirements, and minimise the problems of a more encompassing control system.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Tesla has plenty of problems...

      "The SEC is investigating Elon Musk's latest tweet about taking the company private which appears highly unlikely but was successful in jacking share price."

      ...which then returned to normal very quickly. Only the stock shorters were hurt and that's a pretty dubious practice anyway. They not only need to prove intent, it shines a bright light on the practice of selling stuff you only borrowed in the hope you can later buy it back cheaper than you sold it for. Gambling with other people property would be illegal in pretty much every other situation.

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: Tesla has plenty of problems...

        Only the stock shorters were hurt and that's a pretty dubious practice anyway.

        Short-selling isn't dubious, it's naked short-setting, ie. trading with shares you don't own, that is. Musk likes to play fast and loose with the market: the market can play back. Making any kind of announcement that can afffect the market is regulated in the US and any attempt to affect the share price is an offence, which is why Musk is being investigated.

      2. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: Tesla has plenty of problems...

        ...which then returned to normal very quickly. Only the stock shorters were hurt and that's a pretty dubious practice anyway. They not only need to prove intent, it shines a bright light on the practice of selling stuff you only borrowed in the hope you can later buy it back cheaper than you sold it for.

        I agree it's a dubious practice, but that's the finance industry for you. Problems for Musk are he's had a history of making statements about short-burning. Which is ok, as long as the CEO isn't making false statements to manipulate Tesla's share price. Like taking the company private @$420 a share with finance in place. That's an easier bit of intent, ie unless Musk can produce a term sheet showing $70-80bn to buy out enough share holders to go private, the SEC may prosecute.

        And there's a couple of other little market manipulation issues, ie share price triggers in existing debt.. and potential margin calls against the $800m or so Musk's borrowed personally against his stock. So Musk needs to keep the share price above $380 (from memory) to avoid Tesla and personal bankruptcy.

        So with a rather precarious situation at Tesla, and execs leaving in droves.. It's hardly suprising this guy's gone back to making ICE at Apple. And Tesla going titsup.com would be a bad thing given it's investors include things like pension funds.. Especially US public pension funds that are already struggling to fund their pension liabilities..

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Re: Tesla has plenty of problems...

          And Tesla going titsup.com would be a bad thing given it's investors include things like pension funds.

          Pension funds shouldn't be investing in such an obviously risky stock.

        2. Kristian Walsh Silver badge

          Re: Tesla has plenty of problems...

          Short-selling is not dubious, it's not bad, it's not "evil". I'd expect a whole lot better from technical people than just spouting someone else's ideologies without investigating the reasons why the phenomenon exists.

          Consider a stock market as a control system for pricing (Economists, forgive the errors and simplifications). The "proper" price of a stock is what people think it's worth (not the intrinsic value of the company, and certainly not what the company owner thinks its worth) . That "proper" price is the set-point of your control system. What's listed on the exchange is the output of the system (the offer-price). The error signal is the difference between the "proper" price and the offer price. The feedback mechanism is the difference between purchase prices (accepted bid-prices) and the offer-price.

          Now, if you've done any control systems theory, you'll see there's a problem with that outline: it has unequal resistance. Sellers rarely accept bids below the current listed value, so you can only buy at the price offered, or wait until it falls naturally. However, if you want to buy at higher than the offer price (i.e., inject positive feedback into the system) you can do so immediately. This resistance to negative movement, if unchecked, produces a market where stocks become overvalued, and then collapse catastrophically once the offer-price drifts so far away from the "true" value that buyers stop buying.

          In a phase of price growth, short-selling is a stronger downward adjuster of stock prices than merely not buying. As an example, an investor holds 100 shares of Stock T, but believes that it's over-valued, but also wishes to retain, or later increase, their shareholding in T (i.e., they have confidence in the company, but concerns that its stock price is ballooning). Simply selling the stock that they believe to be overpriced at market value actually injects positive feedback into the system - someone buys it, and the price finds a new, higher, perceived floor. Selling the stock at below market value doesn't have effect as long as other sellers keep selling at the highest price they can get (the rational behaviour).

          The answer to this problem is to short-sell. Sell half the stock, but sign a contract to buy it back again at whatever market price is a month from now. If the price isn't lower by then, you've lost. If it is, you gain. Either way, you, as the investor, have provided a strong feedback signal to the market that the current price of the stock is above its "proper" value, and done so in a way that doesn't force you into irrational behaviour (selling at lower than the best price available)

          For companies, like Tesla, that are sold on the promises of the company itself, short-selling is the only safe corrective mechanism available to stop the price creating a bubble. Earnings reports won't depress prices the way they do with established companies, because Tesla is sold on the basis that it's not going to make money for a long time. Without short-selling, the only corrective measure is a cessation of buying, which causes a dramatic price crash, just as an overrunning control signal eventually hits a safety limit and shuts down the process under control.

          If someone is childish enough to think that a company's stock price is a measure of personal approval for, and judgement of, its CEO, then that person is certainly going to be upset with short-sellers.

          1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

            Re: Tesla has plenty of problems...

            I still think shorting can be a dubious investment given it's betting on failure rather than success. And Musk has a point that it can be a distraction.

            I also think there are problems with shorting as a price discovery mechanism. Short interest may be a warning sign, or just noise. Especially with Tesla as that's been a somewhat irrational stock when it comes to market valuation. Ok, that's speculation based on future performance, but the company's been around a long time, and there are challenges with it's fundamentals.. But that's part of the Musk effect and salesmanship.. Which may have gotten a little too sharp with recent tweets.

            As for pensions, they have invested in Tesla, eg California's teachers fund has a reasonably large stake. That's a challenge because a lot of funds are desperately seeking yields due to low interest rates and any collapse would leave pensions even more underfunded.

    3. Adrian 4 Silver badge

      Re: Tesla has plenty of problems...

      He's only been at Tesla since May. Most of his knowledge was gained at Apple, and presumably that same regulation stopped him sharing it with Tesla.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Was driving past 1 infinity loop this week

    And saw self driving car come out. Got photos.

    1. Sceptic Tank
      Go

      Re: Was driving past 1 infinity loop this week

      It was probably someone who forgot to apply the handbrake after they parked their vehicle.

  5. Tim99 Silver badge

    I really don’t want to start a flame war here

    Maybe it is just for the extension/improvement of Apple CarPlay compared with Android Auto?

    Personal anecdote: In the last few weeks I “helped” a friend get her new bog-standard Nokia Android phone talking to her Skoda Fabia - After nearly 3 hours of faffing about updating and downloading the necessary apps we were successful (after checking the [sparse] documentation, and finally connecting the phone to the car via Bluetooth before connecting it via USB). The next day the app would not work... Just for the hell of it I connected an iPhone to the car via USB. Within 30:seconds it worked. I was driving a Mercedes A Class hire car, which worked almost instantly with the iPhone, we tried the Nokia - nope/nada/nothing, trying the Bluetooth thing got music and the phone working but no maps. Disconnected the phone turned the ignition off, still no maps, after another 90 mins of faffing still no Google Maps, so I gave up.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: I really don’t want to start a flame war here

      That's your problem. Try Here maps.

    2. Dave559 Bronze badge

      Re: I really don’t want to start a flame war here

      How the mighty have indeed fallen.

      Proper Nokia (that is, Symbian) used to have better Bluetooth support than practically anyone else.

      I’m perhaps not surprised that an iPhone might have better Bluetooth support than Android, but that you can’t beam address cards, calendar events or files to another nearby phone from an iPhone using only Bluetooth (all things that proper Nokias managed without difficulty) is really rather embarrassing.

  6. gregthecanuck
    Angel

    Rumour has it that Disney may take a partial stake in Tesla. They have a great need for autonomouse vehicles.

    1. steelpillow Silver badge

      On the stroke of midnight

      would you rather your car turned into an Apple or a pumpkin?

    2. David 132 Silver badge

      gregthecanuck Rumour has it that Disney may take a partial stake in Tesla. They have a great need for autonomouse vehicles.

      “Hello, AA? I need a tow. My autonomous car has Frozen. I tried pulling the fusebox but it’s all Tangled...”

  7. Commswonk Silver badge

    They have a great need for autonomouse vehicles.

    Nah; you're just taking the Mickey...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Naw - just let it go

  8. Rainer

    If you look at the state of software in cars

    you realize it sorely needs somebody to shake it up.

    Car manufactures got to be software-manufactures quasi-overnight and for some it seems it still hasn't registered.

    Tesla may have better software, the infrastructure to deliver and update it - but it was always clear from the beginning that Tesla would struggle with ramping up production beyond the original couple of thousands of cars per year.

    Maybe some people at Apple thought they could excel where Tesla has failed - maybe at least at the beginning of "Project Titan". But the manufacturing challenges are real.

    I think they'll go with the "Designed in California, made in China" scheme on this one, too.

    They'll probably partner with somebody like Geely and just have them execute their designs.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: If you look at the state of software in cars

      Tesla can push out updates but they obviously haven't got the quality control.

      No ordinary car company would launch a car with terrible ABS then push out an update a week after a bad Consumer Reports review which improves the stopping distance by 20 feet. They'd have got it right first time.

      The problem with moving fast and braking things is that in the car industry the things are people.

  9. Sceptic Tank
    Paris Hilton

    After owning 1x iPhone I made it my purpose in life never to own an Apple product again. You'll pay top dollar for the the car and 3 years down the line discover that a software updates borked some crucial function. Your only resolve will be to buy a new car.

    (Also, will they slow their cars down as the batteries wear out?)

    1. Craig 2

      "will they slow their cars down as the batteries wear out?"

      I guess this is just a snarky joke, but technically it could reduce top acceleration from standstill. :)

    2. vtcodger Silver badge

      "Also, will they slow their cars down as the batteries wear out?"

      Of course not. The vehicle will simply drive itself off to the dealer in the middle of the night and you'll get an e-mail telling you that it is unsafe and won't be returned unless you pay $5300 for a battery swap. The only way to prevent that will be to chain the vehicle to a mooring ring when not in use.

    3. BrownishMonstr

      After owning several androids and seeing the response of several of their users I decided not to buy an android any time soon,due to their annoyances. Such as apps wanting to be remain (fully or partially) on main phone memory, and general sluggishness over time.

      After also owning several Nokia/Microsoft Windows Phones I decided not to invest in any more since MS canned development on it, and lack of any meaningful apps.

      Maybe I'm getting old but I think everything is just crap on the market. Currently enjoying my iPhone 8 plus over the past year, and hoping I won't hate it like my previous phones—but I'm not hopeful.

  10. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    They can't call it iCar

    As it might get confused with a [dummy] virus (EICAR)

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