"If I were at Apple and I were serious, I'd do a learning exercise that's pretty modest, maybe a smaller-scale electric vehicle," said Posawatz, who was briefly CEO of Fisker Automotive before the EV startup filed for bankruptcy in late 2013. "You don't want to tackle all of the challenges at once."
Apple has other valuable strengths, said Henrik Fisker, the veteran BMW and Aston Martin designer who was chairman of Fisker Automotive before its bankruptcy. Among them are a brand that captivates young people more than perhaps any auto brand and a design team led by Jonathan Ive, whom Fisker described as "probably the best product designer in the world."
"He has a global view," Fisker said. "What he creates with his team appeals to people globally and is seen as beautiful globally. That, of course, is exactly what you need to do in the auto industry nowadays."
Fisker said that if Apple built a car, one challenge would be designing an object that is true to Apple's aesthetic but still suitable for real-world use.
Unlike, say, iPods, cars must look attractive in motion or standing still and in all sorts of weather and lighting.
"If you can get people who aren't interested in cars to actually turn around and look at a car, you're really successful," Fisker said.
That sums up Apple's challenge and opportunity.
To create the seamless iOS experience Cook called for, it's not enough for Apple to be present in the car.
It must know cars well enough to build one from scratch. That means integrating hardware, software, mechanical components and the user interface into an Apple-conceived whole.
To understand the distinction, turn the clock back to the 2005 debut of the Motorola ROKR E1, the first cellphone with Apple's iTunes music program built into it.
Motorola was the establishment in cellphones and mobile audio. But the phone was a study in compromises, with neither the elegance of Apple's iPod interfaces nor the sleekness of Motorola's popular RAZR phones. Its capacity was a paltry 100 songs. Apple's then-CEO Steve Jobs dubbed it the "iTunes Phone" and damned it with faint praise.
Before long, Apple was in the cellphone business on its own.