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After turning music players, telephones and watches into portable computers, Apple is now eyeing the automobile as the “ultimate mobile device”.

Jeff Williams, Apple’s senior vice-president of operations, dropped the biggest hint yet about the iPhone maker’s ambitions to transform the automotive industry during an onstage interview on Wednesday.

“The car is the ultimate mobile device, isn’t it?” Mr Williams said at the Code conference. “We explore all kinds of categories.”

Mr Williams made the remark in response to a question from the audience about how Apple plans to deploy its huge cash pile, which is approaching $200bn.

He clarified that Apple already offers CarPlay, an infotainment system that shows content from a driver’s iPhone in the dashboard. Carmakers including General Motors, Ford and Hyundai have said they plan to build CarPlay into their cars over the next year.

But Mr Williams’ comment follows reports in the Financial Times and elsewhere that Apple has a secret team of automotive engineers and designers working towards an electric vehicle.

Neither Mr Williams nor his colleagues at Apple have commented on those reports directly but his allusion follows a familiar pattern of its executives’ hints about future products, from its smartwatch to television.

In 2013, Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, told a conference hosted by the same team behind Code that wearable technology was “ripe for exploration” and “a very key branch of the tree”.

“I think the wrist is interesting. The wrist is natural,” he teased. Just over a year later, Apple unveiled its Watch.

As well as saying Watch sales so far have been “fantastic”, Mr Williams also said on Wednesday that Apple would offer new tools to app makers at next month’s developer conference to enable them to tap into the device’s heart rate monitor and other sensors. This new ability to create so-called “native apps” for the Watch could address a recurring criticism of its slow performance when running software other than Apple’s own.

As well as dropping hints about wearable devices, Mr Cook has been trailing its big move into the television market for years now, saying back in 2012 that the company would “keep pulling this string and see where it takes us”. In February last year, Mr Cook said of its Apple TV device, then costing $99: “It’s a little more difficult to call it a hobby these days.”

Apple is finally expected to unveil its “grand vision” for television next month, as it launches a new set-top box that includes a full App Store as well as hooking into Homekit, its smart-home system, people familiar with the matter have said.

However, it still remains locked in talks with broadcasters over content rights to create a new kind of TV streaming service, which may delay some of its plans.

Speaking earlier at the Code conference, Les Moonves, chief executive of CBS, said the broadcaster was “very excited” about Apple’s forthcoming service and met with Eddy Cue, its iTunes chief, last week.

“Apple TV is trying to change the universe,” Mr Moonves said. “I think the age of the 200-channel universe is slowly dying.”

Asked about the determining factor in whether CBS signs up for Apple’s TV service, Mr Moonves replied: “Money.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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