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Five industries that Apple can disrupt while its car project is on hold

Despite reports that Apple's car initiative may be on the fritz, the company still has plenty to focus on.

Not only is it too soon to count an Apple Car out, but glimmers of early initiatives in artificial intelligence, augmented reality, entertainment, enterprise and software show that there are plenty of industries Apple will sooner disrupt.

Apple's hushed ambitions to disrupt the automotive industry were heralded as the next big "wow" for fans that relish "one more thing" at the end of flashy debut events.

But Bloomberg report last week indicated Apple has scaled back its plans to build its own car and pivoted to software, with a final decision to be made in late 2017. Though Apple has declined to comment on the initiative to CNBC, it has already revealed hints of projects that could impress crowds, even with a car now reportedly on the back burner.

An Apple employee works near a screen with the new Apple TV
Jonathan Alcorn | Reuters
An Apple employee works near a screen with the new Apple TV

1. Entertainment

Apple had looked into buying Time Warner — which agreed to be bought last week by AT&T — The Wall Street Journal reported. The discussions appeared to be nothing more than preliminary, but it shows that the company is more serious than it might let on about the content business.

"There's a lot of people making great content today — more than ever," Eddie Cue, Apple's senior vice president of internet software and services, said at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit last week. "That doesn't mean we won't make some great content of our ourselves. Even in the space of music, even though we weren't a label, we created music videos, we created certain things. So that's always been the case, and you're going to see us do that with video in the same way."

Apple, of course, has Apple TV, which enables over-the-top streaming of content, and has recently inked deals for content like "Carpool Karaoke."

Like Google and Amazon, Apple is already competing with companies like Netflix to own the living room. Veteran technology writer Walt Mossberg has indicated that Apple has long had plans to reinvent the TV.

In a conversation with Richard Plepler, executive at HBO (owned by Time Warner), Cue said that while Apple is doing some shows, consumers should continue to expect mostly partnerships. And Plepler points out that HBO's digital offering was already disproportionately popular on Apple devices.

2. Enterprise

In late September, Apple announced it was partnering with Deloitte to help corporate clients work with Apple products, in an initiative that would include a whopping 5,000 Deloitte advisors.

Apple is also expected to unveil three new iPad Pros next year, according to predictions from closely followed industry analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities. The company has been slowly sinking its claws into the business market, announcing collaborations with IBM and Cisco over the past few years.

One area of business where Apple has particularly deep roots in is healthcare, with the introduction of fitness and meditation apps on the Apple Watch, alongside special development tools.

"The health care system can be made much simpler, can have much better results," CEO Tim Cook said at Startup Fest Europe in Amsterdam earlier this year. "You can have patients that really feel like customers...and have systems and applications that bring out the best in the medical professionals...I think the runway there is enormous."

The company has a similar setup for the education sector, with a special suite of software options.

3. Augmented reality

With powerful graphics processing and special depth-producing software, Apple's latest iPhone goes a long way toward the tech needed for augmented reality. Other wireless accessories, like AirPods, and the Apple Watch, also set Apple up to enhance "ambient" aspects of users lives, write analysts at UBS.

Though Apple has yet to reveal any plans for a headset or glasses, Cook has given quite a clear vision in several interviews of what he thinks of the future of augmented reality, discussing how he thinks it will be pervasive as "eating three meals a day."

4. Software

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster believes Apple is being conservative when it estimates that services have about a 50 percent greater gross margin than Apple's overall margin.

Cook has said he believes the company's services will be "the size of a Fortune 100 company by next year." Apple grew its revenue from services 19 percent and the app store hit an all-time record last quarter.

To bolster the push, Apple has rolled out App Store ads, new revenue sharing agreements, and an easy-to-learn coding environment.

5. Artificial intelligence

AI is everywhere, and Apple is no exception. Apple's machine learning powers the song selection on Apple Music, Siri and more.

The company has reportedly made key moves recently, including hiring Carnegie Mellon researcher Russ Salakhutdinov and acquiring Tuplejump, a data science technology firm.

One more thing

While it certainly sounds rough at the moment, it's likely too soon to ring the death knell for Apple's car project.

While Bloomberg's headline indicates the company's car project has scaled back, the company has reportedly until the end of next year to decide its next move, and had planned for a car in the "early 2020s."

Technology company coverage tends to skew very forward-looking, holding companies to expectations and timelines ahead of reality, write critics like Sam Lessin, formerly of Facebook, and Aaron Zamost of Square.

But the reality is, Apple still has time at its disposal when it comes to any car projects. With a $1 billion investment in Didi Chuxing, the company may have access to the biggest set of driving data in the world.

Though Jean Liu, president of Didi Chuxing, declined to comment on the specifics of their agreement in a panel last week, she did say something markedly Apple-like: That if Didi does follow Uber into the self-driving car business, it wait for the best and safest version of the product.