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Microsoft Corporation (MSFT) Beats Apple Inc. (AAPL) to the EV (Kind of)

Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT)

Microsoft Corporation is not working on a car, at least not one that anyone knows about, but that doesn’t mean the firm has nothing to gain from a rise in the use of pure Electric Vehicles (EVs). This week the firm revealed that it had joined with ABB Ltd to make fast charging easier across the world. Apple Inc. , a firm also working on EV tech, may be watching Redmond warily.

Microsoft Corporation Car
A Ford Territory used to promote Windows Mobile in the early days of the OS.

Tim Cook has been talking more and more about cars in recent months, and it seems likely that Apple is working on some sort of product, aside from CarPlay, to take over the road. Microsoft recently surprised the world by showing off its first notebook PC, however, meaning the firm has at least some ability to keep projects secret. That’s something Apple isn’t really able to brag about.

Microsoft charges EVs

The deal between Microsoft Corporation and ABB will see the Washington firm’s Azure Cloud platform power ABB high-speed EV chargers around the world.

The man in charge of the ABB project, Pekka Tiitinen, said in a statement that “Platform performance and stability are critical differentiators for the successful operation of a modern, data-dependent EV charging station. By partnering with Microsoft, ABB will be able to offer best-in-class operations as well as innovative advanced services — what we call the Internet of Things, Services and People.”

All of the firm’s chargers will now be connected to the Microsoft platform, and as the firm builds out its network across the globe that link will get stronger and more vital. The deal was announced at EV event eCarTech, which has been taking place in Germany since October 20.

The move isn’t any sort of manifesto that Microsoft wants to get involved in EVs, but it does something to show how much more common EVs are becoming, and what kind of effect that could have on the world at large. EV stations are going to be more data heavy than petrol stations, and Microsoft could do well to secure contracts based on them.

Other firms, like Apple, are looking at other sides of the EV equation in order to search for a profit in the massive mobility change the world seems to be heading for. As in all things, the world is paying far more attention to Apple, which has no product in the segment, than to firms that are making real cars. There is good reason behind that, however.

Apple hints at a car

While Microsoft works on helping those building chargers offer a better service, Apple may be working on building demand for that service. The firm is rumored to be working on an EV right now, and it’s capturing the imagination of many of the world’s top car-makers long before any concrete info has arrived.

On Wednesday Ferrari boss Sergio Marchionne told CNBC that he reckons Apple is indeed building a car, though he was sure that the firm would focus on the plans rather than the plants.

He told the team on Squawk on the Street that he doubts “it very much that they will setup infrastructure to manufacture cars.” In his view Apple is going to go ahead with the design of a car, however. Tim Cook’s recent comments have added weight to that thesis in recent days.

At the WSJDLive in Laguna Beach this week Mr. Cook said that “massive change” would come to the car industry in the coming years. He said that software is going to become a more and more important part of how a car works, but he stopped well short of saying that his firm will make any sort of software to effect that change.

Apple may or may not emerge with an EV to sell in the next decade, but even if the firm doesn’t give the market a go, it seems that the world is going to tilt toward that axis. There’s a wide range of firms looking to make the EV a mass market reality right now. Many of them are far ahead of Tim Cook’s team, at least for the time being.

Apple won’t be the first to the road

It’s not clear in what sense Apple is going to take to the road in the years ahead, but Wall Street seems convinced that the firm is working on its own EV with some kind of self-driving tech on board. With the Tesla Motors Model S already driving itself on the highway, and many other EVs also on sale, Cupertino won’t be the first to bring either of those things to the road.

Apple could, with the work of talent like Jony Ive and Tim Cook, make a really great self-driving EV that looks fantastic and sell it at a price people are willing to pay. People might complain about the expense of an iPhone 6S, but for what it does it’s a very affordable device. The Apple Car may follow the same philosophy.

Apple still hasn’t put anything related to an EV on the road just yet, and that means, despite the tangent its EV-charger support is on, Microsoft could be deemed ahead in this space. There’s quite a few firms, including Nissan, Tesla and Volkswagen that are very ahead of either of the West Coast darlings.

That’s not the best way to judge the potential success of an Apple product, however. The firm wasn’t even in the MP3 player market before the iPod took the market over, and it didn’t have a phone before the iPhone changed the world.

If the world does change to a transport system based on the EV and self-driving there’s a whole lot of things that are going to have to change, and there’s a whole lot of money that’s going to be made as things change. Both Apple and Microsoft are likely to pick up some sales from the change, but neither has laid out their full plan for the future of transport just yet.

The car world is waiting for Apple to make its move, no matter how Tesla Motors CEO Musk insults the firm’s engineers. Microsoft Corporation , on the other hand, won’t be looked to for guidance on the road, though its efforts in improved high-speed charging will likely be appreciated.

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