Tim Cook talks Apple Car, augmented reality and Elon Musk's Tesla

Apple CEO Tim Cook has talked about Apple car rumors, augmented reality, and the electric vehicle segment and his contact – or lack of – with Tesla's Elon Musk, amid speculation by analysts that the Cupertino firm is readying a handful of ambitious launches into new categories over the next few years. Though Cook is, as always, tight-lipped about details and exact product plans, it's clear that Apple isn't interested in a low-key role in either AR or autonomous driving.

They're two segments around which rumors have long been circulating about Apple's potential launches. On the one hand, the company is believed to have been working on multiple generations of smart glasses and mixed-reality headsets, spanning everything from a lightweight VR/AR headset through to sunglasses-like "Apple Glasses" for everyday wear.

On the mobility site, Apple's Project Titan has been exploring automotive applications for the company's technology for several years now. It's believed to be readying a homegrown dashboard OS and an autonomous vehicle platform, along with new battery technology for EVs. While the exact ambitions of the division are said to have varied over time, the latest leaks have hinted that a full Apple car is the goal.

Cook: AR is a critically important part of Apple's future

Apple is believed to be preparing to talk about smart glasses and mixed-reality headsets at its WWDC 2021 developer event this summer, getting coders and app-makers ready for new, eventual consumer hardware. Speaking to Kara Swisher for the NYTimes, Cook declined to comment on specific augmented reality products the company might have on the roadmap. However, he did reiterate his thoughts about the potential value of AR.

"But in terms of AR, the promise of AR is that you and I are having a great conversation right now. Arguably, it could even be better if we were able to augment our discussion with charts or other things to appear," Cook suggested. "And your audience would also benefit from this, too, I think. And so when I think about that in different fields, whether it's health, whether it's education, whether it's gaming, whether it's retail, I'm already seeing AR take off in some of these areas with use of the phone. And I think the promise is even greater in the future."

Currently, Apple's AR system – known as ARKit – relies on its smartphones and tablets. Apps can use the camera to show a real-world view on the screen, on top of which developers can add 3D graphics, animations, and other information. The allure of glasses or a headset, however, is that the iPhone or iPad wouldn't need to be in-between the user and the world around them.

Asked whether AR is a "critically important part of Apple's future," Cook confirms that "it is."

Apple's autonomous car plans are ambitious

On the topic of cars, meanwhile, Swisher opens by discussing Tesla and its outspoken CEO Elon Musk, who once said that – during the automaker's more troubled years – he would've happily sold the company to Apple. According to Cook, though, the two execs haven't actually talked to each other.

"You know, I've never spoken to Elon, although I have great admiration and respect for the company he's built," Cook said. "I think Tesla has done an unbelievable job of not only establishing the lead, but keeping the lead for such a long period of time in the EV space. So I have great appreciation for them."

On vehicles specifically, and Apple's potential role in them, again Cook wouldn't be drawn on any particular product. However he was insistent that the focus would be autonomous driving, rather than just another vehicle. That, the implication appears to be, would be Apple's tech-first route into the new segment.

"The autonomy itself is a core technology, in my view," Cook explained. "If you sort of step back, the car, in a lot of ways, is a robot. An autonomous car is a robot. And so there's lots of things you can do with autonomy. And we'll see what Apple does. We investigate so many things internally. Many of them never see the light of day. I'm not saying that one will not."

As for whether all that will result in an Apple-branded car, unsurprisingly Cook is coy again. "We love to integrate hardware, software, and services, and find the intersection points of those because we think that's where the magic occurs," he says. "And so that's what we love to do. And we love to own the primary technology that's around that."

That certainly sounds like the sort of thing a company looking to build a whole vehicle might say, on the face of it, rather than one aiming to be even a Tier 1 supplier. At the same time, it's worth noting that those automotive supplier behemoths have a surprising presence in modern vehicles. While individual automakers may brand their adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping systems in different ways, often the core hardware and software stack is provided by those suppliers.

Cook declined to answer whether the "integration" he has in mind would be a car, or the tech within a car.