Apple Getting Into Home Robots After Bailing on Cars?

By Patrick Moorhead - April 11, 2024

The Six Five team discusses Apple Getting Into Home Robots After Bailing on Cars?

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Daniel Newman: The headlines were all over. “Shelves Car Product, Develops Humanoid Robot Product.” Pat, look, this one’s kind of a little bit of a fun topic. It’s a little less… It’s not as geeky as the Palantir stuff. It’s not as technical as the Intel stuff, but it is a great question mark and Pat, the topic is almost like, what the heck is Apple doing? They’re being sued by everyone on the planet.

It’s a pile on moment. Apparently the Xiaomis, we didn’t talk about this on the pod, Pat, but we’ve seen Xiaomi come out with what looks to be a pretty nice car. Now again, there’s questions about its safety, but basically phone makers in China are like, “We can do that. We’re going to make a car.” And basically now they’ve taken chips and an operating system and put wheels and electric motors around it and they’re creating a car that looks a heck of a lot like a Porsche Taycan in my opinion. And they’re selling them for like 30 grand US. Now again, that’s not fully loaded, and this is all speculation right now of how much this will be available, but the long story long is what the heck is happening in Apple that they abandoned their plan after all these years. They’ve disassembled the team. I think they let close to 1000 people go that were part of the car project and now the rumor is they’re going to get into humanoid robots.

Pat, I also shared something last night that Alibaba is going to get into delivering packages with rockets. This is a real thing. I mean, what a world we live in right now because getting your dog food next day isn’t soon enough, so I need it delivered on a rocket. So there’s not a lot of details about this kind of home bot, but we know that Amazon had a $1,600 Astro bot and it can deliver snacks and patrol the home, keep security. But what I’m not really quite sure about is this even a real thing? Is this a rumor? I mean, they’ve got an advanced tabletop home device that uses robotics to move a display around. So that’s a starting point. But the way they’re kind of picturing this thing and they’re showing this thing is it’s like a walking like a Boston Dynamics robot that’s going to be walking around your house.

Is it going to be cooking you dinner doing your chores? Can it take my puppy out by the way? Because this puppy needs to go out like every 15 minutes. I don’t know, Pat, I just think this is super interesting and a smart display on some sort of mobile that’s going to roam around your house. Did the Astro get legs? I know our guy Panos Panay is over at Amazon now and I trust with his innovation it’s going to advance the device’s business, Pat. But let me just kind of flip the topic. They always say talk about what you want to talk about rather than what you’re being asked. This robot thing feels like a rumor to me.

It almost feels like an April Fool’s joke, but it came after April Fool’s day. And if they are going to develop a robot, the dancing robots Tesla’s putting out and everyone else is putting out, are they really ditching the car? Are they ditching their plan? Are they going to continue to roll out overpriced headgear and humanoid robots and rolling machines around their house? What the heck is Apple doing? And by the way, this created a lot of interest and hype, but they’re still saying this probably a few years if not several years away from actually being something we would see in anybody’s home.

Patrick Moorhead: So having presented to boards of directors and run various elements of corporate strategy for large companies in my past, I will tell you that in your strategic long range plan, you’re coming up with some big long-term bets and what you’re going to invest in and what you’re not for growth. And I think this is probably one thing in the slide deck of the potential five things that Apple could do. Now strategically, they’re a little hamstrung in that they’re going to have a really hard time buying any company. We saw Amazon get shut down with Roomba, and then you have to look at core competencies. Now, Apple is very good at convincing consumers that it is safe. And if you think about a robot coming in and doing your laundry, being a roving security camera, delivering messages or food to your kids and stuff like that, trust is going to be paramount.

And that’s what I think Apple would be very, very good at. On the mechanical side, the company has demonstrated it is exceptionally well at miniaturization and things like smartphone and Apple Watch. But when it comes to motors, arms, rotating arms, the companies that have been doing that for 10 years are companies like Amazon. You have Amazon that’s been doing this forever. I mean, Dan, you and I went to one of their distribution centers, we saw those orange robots driving around on the ground. You’ve got robotic arms doing things. You have something called Proteus. And remember the containerized storage robots where the pick pack and shipper didn’t walk around the warehouse, the tray came to you, to the picker.

And then of course you mentioned Astro. And again, I don’t know how that’s doing commercially, but you also have the Ring Always Home flying camera that Amazon runs as well. So that is a company that I think has much bigger potential to pull this off. And as much as we’d like to attack Amazon for, we can’t trust you because for this or that reason, they’re actually one of the most trusted consumer brands behind Apple, which is interesting. Then there’s Tesla that has Optimus that they’re putting big investments in, and I don’t believe any date that Elon puts out after his cross country full self driving-

Daniel Newman: Only five years late, it’s going to happen.

Patrick Moorhead: But anyways, he’s claiming that Optimus will go into his manufacturing facilities in the next three years. So anyways, I think there’s a lot of pluses of why Apple could be good at this, but if they can’t get really good at mechanical and wheels at arms and things like that and they’re going to get shut down from buying maybe a mid-sized company, it’s going to be very difficult. But what is crystal clear is Apple’s growth potential is murky. You can find a way to do low-cost smartphones, but they’ve been flirting with SC forever. New iPads continue to get pushed back because like the PC market, people don’t feel like they have a reason. Maybe the AI tablet will be a big driver. Maybe the AI smartphone will be a driver, but net-net it’s super murky.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, I mean, like I said, this was a little bit of fun, very speculative. It is interesting. Every company’s kind of competing and Pat, I wasn’t kidding about the Baba thing. So everyone out there checked that out, they want to launch rockets to drop packages off.

Patrick Moorhead: Oh I saw that. Yeah, my research for this one, that popped up.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, I mean again, we want to keep everybody on the front foot as surprising and innovative as possible. It’s good these companies are competing to disrupt and Pat, you and I have been in those Amazon factories and watched the robotics work where they work for picking and packing and shipping. I mean there’s some really interesting applications. I’m just, I don’t know. The humanoid robot thing, it’s probably coming. It’ll probably be driven by people buying their spouses in the future. It’ll be the next version of the mail order spouse, my robot. I mean not everybody has a bestie that they want to hang out with all the time.

Patrick Moorhead

Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.