Apple’s deal with Indian ride-hailing firm Ola hints at bigger connected car ambitions

Apple may have scrapped its plans to build self-driving cars, but if its recent deal with Indian ride-hailing firm Ola is anything to go by, the tech giant’s auto industry ambitions are far from over.

Ola, India’s largest ride-hailing company, announced Tuesday that it is partnering with Apple to offer Apple Music as part of the in-car experience. The firm, which also announced partnerships with Sony, Qualcomm and Audio Compass, said the service will be made available in some of its vehicles as part of a platform called Ola Play. When passengers book an Ola ride, they will be able to interact with an in-car tablet to control the vehicle’s air conditioning, music, watch videos and even read ebooks. 

“Cars were initially built for the driver,” Ola Chief Executive Bhavish Agarwal said during a news conference reported on by India media outlet YourStory. “But with ride-sharing, the control needs to be there for the passenger, and Ola Play works along that."

The partnership is similar to a 2014 deal between Uber and Spotify, in which Uber passengers were given control of the car’s music through the Spotify app on their smartphone.

But analysts were quick to note that this is the second overseas ride-hailing company that Apple has either invested in or partnered with, suggesting that the Cupertino company may have plans to develop software or services for ride-hailing companies or even automakers.

“Apple invested $1 billion in [Chinese ride-hailing giant] Didi, so it has access to all their data. Now Apple will have access to Ola’s Apple Music data,” said Grayson Brulte, president of technology consulting firm Brulte and Co. “So you start to put the pieces together. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Apple try to gather all the data in the food chain."

What Apple might do with this data is anyone’s guess. The notoriously secretive company did not immediately responded to a request for comment. 

Brulte said he could see Apple shift from working on self-driving cars to working on the services and interfaces with which drivers and passengers interact. Think: The sleek and simple design of iOS, for cars.

The question now is what Apple’s next move might be, as this will be a clearer indicator of what Apple is betting on, Brulte said.

“What’s the next relationship?” he said. “We’re waiting for the third domino to fall, and when it does, we’ll understand where this is going."

tracey.lien@latimes.com

Twitter: @traceylien

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