What is Apple doing with its mystery minivans?

Bay Area residents are buzzing about mysterious minivans that have been linked to none other than Apple.

The vans, which are topped by a curious X-shaped apparatus, have been spotted throughout Contra Costa County, particularly Concord. Claycord, a local blog documenting the phenomenon, reports that similar vehicles have been spotted as far away as New York.  KPIX confirmed with the Department of Motor Vehicles that at least one of the minivans tooling around the Bay Area — a blue Dodge Caravan — is registered to Apple, but drivers refuse to say what they are doing. (See KPIX video below.)

The sightings have touched off a flurry of speculation about what the secretive tech giant is up to, with theories ranging from mapping to self-driving cars. An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment. Concord Community Relations Manager Leslye Asera told SiliconBeat that Apple has not told the city anything about its plans.

Analyst Rob Enderle told KPIX he believes the vehicle is a self-driving car, similar to Google’s fleet roaming the Bay Area. But others think that’s a remote possibility as Apple has not been granted a permit to test autonomous vehicles.

Technology blog AppleInsider suggested Apple may be harvesting data to improve its mapping service, noting that data from Google’s Street View initiative greatly enhanced Google Maps. The frames atop the minivan appear to hold cameras and LiDAR sensors, which are used to generate high-resolution maps, according to AppleInsider.

But analyst Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies thinks Apple has something else in store. He told SiliconBeat he suspects Apple is using the vehicles as it tries to figure out how to weave its iOS software more tightly into today’s cars. Last year, Apple announced that some new cars from auto companies such as Honda and Ford would be equipped with CarPlay, a software program that makes it easier for drivers to use their iPhones on the road.

“Ever since Apple introduced CarPlay, it became clear to a lot of us that Apple is looking at extending their technology to the moving vehicle,” Bajarin said.

But despite Apple’s growing interest in autos, Bajarin does not think that the Cupertino-based company intents to become a car maker.

“I honestly don’t believe Apple is interested in creating an Apple car. That’s just too far-fetched,” he said. “But can they enhance the car experience with iOS? Absolutely.”

 

 

Above: Mysterious cars linked to Apple have sparked speculation about what the Cupertino-based company is up to (AFP/Getty Images). 

 

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  • J Flack

    A lighter colored vehicle with the exact same rack on the roof rolled into our court in Pleasanton. Circled around (we only have seven houses) and then exited back the direction it came – unlike the Google van which continued down the adjacent access street.

    It was a peculiar route for a driverless vehicle or a mapping vehicle.

    JF

    • RussellL

      “It was a peculiar route for a driverless vehicle or a mapping vehicle.”

      Not peculiar for a mapping vehicle. Their purpose is to take pictures of every road.

  • ALRUI

    These driverless cars are going to be a major problem, watch!

  • Wake Robin

    More corporate hype and showmanship from Apple; like their black barges. The Media is increasingly becoming a willing and paid for conduit for government psyops and corporate marketing ops.

  • RussellL

    “But analyst Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies thinks Apple has something else in store. He told SiliconBeat he suspects Apple is using the vehicles as it tries to figure out how to weave its iOS software more tightly into today’s cars.”

    Tim Bajarin is just trying to hype the company.

    How is having a dozen cameras and sensors on the roof going to help Apple weave iOS more tightly into cars?

    To help us drive our cars down the street, are we going to be able to look at our phones instead of out of our windshields?

 
 
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