With the word of Apple and Tesla high ranking officials meeting, observers seem to be whipped into a frenzy about what the two parties, from two very different industries, could have discussed. Of all the major tech components that the two companies could potentially be interested in, one remains especially crucial to both: Batteries.
When the talks between Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Apple’s mergers and acquisitions chief were originally revealed, immediate speculation centered around whether Apple would buy Tesla, which has a market cap of about $24 billion. Most however, dismissed the possibility and are instead focused on potential partnerships between the two companies.
One of the potential alignments could be for Apple to offer tighter integration of its iOS devices with Tesla’s vehicles or even to help design the user interface, which is already heavily reliant on touchscreens. This move would have limited reach for Apple, which sells tens of millions of devices every quarter, while Tesla for now remains a high-end brand with limited mass-market appeal. Thinking in the more immediate term, some market watchers are speculating that Apple could be interested in Tesla’s proprietary battery technology, leading to smaller and more efficient mobile devices in the future.
Batteries are of course an essential to Apple’s mobile devices, including the iPhone and iPad. A peek inside either device shows that the internal space is overwhelmingly taken up by a lithium-ion battery that allows hours of uptime. Batteries are an area of expertise for Tesla, which is the world’s leading maker of all-electric cars. Tesla vehicles are powered by the same lithium-ion battery technology that drives Apple’s portable devices.
The car manufacturer that has made several great advances in the manufacturing and efficiency of those batteries, with a full recharge on its vehicles now capable in just over an hour. Tesla is also working on battery swap stations that will give drivers a new, fully charged battery in their vehicle in just 90 seconds. That being said Tesla still faces battery shortages for its vehicles, which is something the company plans to address by building its own factory and controlling the manufacturing process entirely. Musk, the company’s CEO has said that the new mega-factory would be comparable to all of the existing lithium-ion production in the world, all accomplished at once facility.
Musk has promised that the company’s new battery manufacturing center will be eco-friendly, reusing old battery packs and relying greatly on solar power. The CEO even said the facility will “most likely” be in North America.
As its devices become smaller and more powerful, Apple has shown considerable interest in new and advanced battery technologies. An earlier report suggested that Apple is seeking solar and wireless inductive charging methods for its rumored wrist-worn “iWatch” accessory, a device that is believed to be preparing for a potential late 2014 debut.
There is also evidence from patent filings that Apple is interested in new curved battery designs that could potentially fit into slimmer, more shapely portable devices. A recent report suggested that Apple has explored the so-called “stepped” battery technology created by LG that could take different shapes and offer better longevity than existing options.
Ultimately, we’ll have to wait and see what Apple has been discussing.