The headlines over the weekend were tantalizing: "Apple to build iCar."
This would perhaps be an electric state of the art vehicle that could bring a new kind of functionality to the nearly 100-year-old consumer product.
But what if Apple wasn't really building a car, but instead a platform, to bring Apple's powerful iPhone functionality into Toyotas, Cadillacs, Volkswagens, Hondas and the like?
This is what many top analysts believe will really happen.
"Apple wants to own the dashboard," says Tim Bajarin, an analyst with Creative Strategies. "It does not want to build a car."
The speculation got started over the weekend when the Wall Street Journal, citing unidentified sources, said Apple had snagged top talent who formerly worked at auto firms, and that "several hundred" were now working on a top secret auto project, thought to be a car.
"If Apple was going to make a car, it would be ten times easier to just buy Tesla," Bajarin says. "But Apple doesn't want a single branded experience, it wants Apple in many, many cars."
For a company that crossed $700 billion in valuation last week, Apple works on many future-looking projects, many of which never see the light of day, and this could be one of them.
However, Apple is clearly interested in extending the iPhone experience into cars.
In March, 2014 Apple announced CarPlay, a system to bring touch-screen and voice-activated navigation to cars with great fanfare. It said that many auto manufacturers had signed on to offer the system to consumers, including Honda, Dodge, Chevrolet and Ferrari.
However, in the nearly 12 months since CarPlay was announced, Ferrari is the only one of the 31 auto manufacturers cited by Apple that's currently offering the system in new cars.
Apple says more auto companies will feature CarPlay this year, but cites no firm release dates. The system is available directly from Pioneer and Alpine, which sell $500 CarPlay units that can be installed separately.
Despite Apple's grand ambitions of going beyond CarPlay to bring better safety and driving features to cars, the earliest we could see something would be 2020, says Richard Wallace, director of transportation system analysis for Ann Arbor based Center for Automotive Research.
"Auto companies are always working three to four years out," he says.
In thinking about an Apple iCar, it's easy to speculate and dream big. Two models, like the iPhone, available in white and black, with very few buttons. That cluttered dashboard? Replaced by Siri voice-activation and automation.
An Apple system there would be a popular add-on feature for dealers, says Richard Doherty, an analyst with the Envisioneering Group. "An Apple cockpit in an Audi or Toyota would become a value differentiator."
He sees Apple's research as looking into ways to prevent distracted driving, and offer tools to make driving safer.
Bajarin foresees potential cameras on top of the car that can help park the vehicle, and even find available parking spaces at a shopping mall structure.
But in the end, don't expect to see Apple in the car sales game, says Wallace.
"This is a business with 5% to 6% margin," he says. "That's not what Apple and Google see with their products. If I was an Apple or Google shareholder, I'd demand they not become an automaker and lower my returns."
This article originally appeared in USA TodayReuse content