Apple’s Digital License Plates Won’t be Coming Soon

| Analysis

Apple may be planning on including digital license plate technology in its rumored electric car project. The speculation stems from Apple's recent hire of Rónán Ó Braonáin, director of engineering at Reviver—a company developing digital license plates. If you're thinking your next car will have digital plates, however, think again. Adoption for this technology is a long way off.

Apple may want digital plates for its cars, but they won't be coming soonApple may want digital plates for its cars, but they won't be coming soon

The hire was first spotted by electrek on LinkedIn. Mr. Braonáin's profile shows he let Reviver in August to work at Apple. He lists his job as "Secret Agent @ Apple Special Projects."

Reviver wasn't Mr. Braonáin's first gig in the car industry. He also served as CTO for the electric car fleet management software company Vision Fleet, and before that he was a software engineer for BMW.

electrek notes digital license plates could be a significant money saver for governments, which seems reasonable after the costs of building out the infrastructure to support the technology have been recouped. That also assumes widespread adoption of digital plates by the automotive industry.

Digital plates could have big benefits for fleet vehicles for companies and the government. Instead of carting in cases of license plates for new cars, all vehicle registrations could be handled from a single point, and the risk of plate theft would be eliminated. The administrative time needed to manage vehicle fleet registrations could be drastically reduced.

For average drivers, however, there wouldn't be much value in switching to digital plates—at least not right away. Retrofitting current cars to support digital plates would likely be more expensive than most drivers would like, and unless they're adopted nationwide, moving to a new state means going back to traditional metal plates.

Shared cars like CarShare could benefit from digital plates, too, from an administrative standpoint—assuming they're seen as fleet vehicles. Where they wouldn't see any value, however, is for share subscribers.

License plates are intended to identify specific vehicles, not drivers, and changing that would require an overhaul of the DMV systems in every state. Our nation-wide system for identifying who is driving a car is called a driver's license.

Convincing tax payers to support the expensive transition to digital plates could be a trick, too. The change won't be quick or cheap, and states will have to run dual systems—one for traditional registrations and another for digital—for years, which will increase costs instead of cutting them. That said, moving away from metal license plates sounds like a good idea because it could reduce government costs in the long term by making vehicle registrations much easier to manage.

If Apple is planning on offering digital plates as a feature on its electric car, it's long term goal, and not something we'll see when the vehicle is introduced. Hopefully we'll have a license plate upgrade option when that day comes so we don't have to replace our Apple Car with a new model.

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Ok, this is officially getting ridiculous, moving out of the realm of useful into yes, you-could-but-why-would-you-waste-your-time territory (and if it were Google you know license plates would be serving ads). Can’t innovate anymore, my ass, Phil?  I grieve for your ass.

Lee Dronick

Much like someone stealing license plates to help their vehicle’s identity I suppose that you could hack into the digital plates.


This will put a lot of prison workers and DMV employees out of work. Does technological progress know no morals?

Scott B in DC

@Vagabondx: While it used to be the case where many states used prison workers to make license plates, that is not the case any more. New technologies (since the 1980s) have made the hand stamping obsolete.

I bring that up because the making of license plates by inmates began at various intervals in the 1920s, after the beginning of Prohibition. Prior, you were given an identification number, some states even referred to them as property tax numbers, and it was your job to display it on the car. Depending on your ability and what you could afford, the tag placed on the car was made from materials like leather, wood, metal, or just hand painted on the car.

When cars became too plentiful for the roads, thanks to Henry Ford and the end of World War I, states were finding that the differences in license plates made it difficult for the police to identify drivers. If I recall correctly, either Illinois or Indiana was the first state to use prison inmates to hand stamp specific license plates.

Collectors love those pre WWI license plates. Leather plates that have survived are highly desired and command the highest price. Last year, I represented a buyer at an auction with a $5,000 for one of two leather tooled license plates. One was from New York with a relation to the Rockefeller family (it was the personal plate of an employee at their residence) and the other was an Chicago plate with some tie to the growth of organized crime in the city. Both plates each sold beyond my budget limit!


Not one of my employer’s fleet vehicles has a straight license plate on it. smile

Not sure how anything digital would survive that kind of environment…

Lee Dronick

Scott did you see this story about the license plates that were on President Kennedy’s limousine

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