Apple Car rumor roundup: Project Titan and what it means!

What is Project Titan, Apple's secretive car project? When will it ship, how will it work, and how much will it cost? Nobody outside Apple's upper echelon knows for sure, but here are all the rumors currently making the rounds!

Updated April 28, 2017: Apple is looking to make some changes to California's self-driving car testing policy. Details below

Project Purple was the iPhone. Gizmo was the Apple Watch. And Titan? Well, that's believed to encompass Apple's automotive ambitions — aka, the car.

Just like iPhone started off as a tablet, became a phone, and then expanded to a tablet again, Apple Car will likely take a twisting, turning path to market. That's if it ever comes to market. Plenty of Apple projects, including the television set, never have.

The car feels different, though. For one thing, due to regulatory issues, it's forced to be more public than most of Apple's special projects. Second, the logistical revolution is real and Apple is uniquely positioned to be one of the major players in that space.

Because autonomous cars won't just be about the destination, they'll be about the differentiated experience of the journey.

April 28, 2017: Apple proposes changes to California's self-driving car testing rules

Apple is looking to make some changes to California's self-driving car testing policy. As first noted by Reuters, Apple is looking for California to clarify or change its positions on certain testing regulations in order to make easier for self-driving vehicles to reach public acceptance.

From Apple's letter:

Apple believes that public acceptance is essential to the advancement of automated vehicles. Access to transparent and intuitive data on the safety of the vehicles being tested will be central to gaining public acceptance. However, the current and proposed disengagement reporting requirements do not achieve this result.

In particular, Apple takes issue with current rules about disengagement reporting and testing without a safety driver, along with some definitions. In the case of definitions Apple seems to be seeking these changes so that these regulations don't hinder the company's development of additional technologies that could improve self-driving vehicles.

April 21, 2017: Apple's car project, Titan, ready to train testers

Last year Apple pivoted its Project Titan from a full-on car project to a platform designed to enable autonomous vehicles, whether they're eventually made by Apple or a partner manufacturer or ride-sharing service. It looks like that platform is now ready for early testing.

Kif Leswing, writing for Business Insider:

The documents obtained by Business Insider include a "Development Platform Specific Training" as well as details about an autonomous-vehicle system called the "Apple Automated System." Among the key training issues are instructions on how to regain manual control of an autonomous car if necessary.

According to the training packet, Apple's self-driving car uses a Logitech wheel and pedals to actuate drive by wire, and it supports one person at a time.

The drivers, mostly Ph.D's involved with the machine learning program, have to pass seven tests to be considered trained to, among other things, take back control of the system should they ever need to.

April 14, 2017: Apple granted permit to publicly test self-driving cars in California

Apple has officially been granted a permit to test driverless vehicles in the state of California. According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), the state has issued a permit to Apple. Additionally, as of April 14, 2017, Apple is the most recent recipient of such a permit.

Via Business Insider):

The California DMV updated its website on Friday, adding Apple's name to 29 other companies testing self-driving vehicles in the state, including Tesla and Google.

July 28, 2016: Apple poaches QNX CEO Dan Dodge to head up car software

Apple has reportedly hired Dan Dodge, formerly of BlackBerry-owned QNX, to work on Project Titan, the company's electric car project.

From Bloomberg:

Dan Dodge, the founder and former chief executive officer of QNX, the operating system developer that BlackBerry acquired in 2010, joined Apple earlier this year, the people said. He is part of a team headed by Bob Mansfield, who, since taking over leadership of the cars initiative -- dubbed Project Titan -- has heralded a shift in strategy, according to a person familiar with the plan. 

Apple previously hired the head of QNX software to run Core OS, which makes foundational software for both macOS and iOS. Apple has also reportedly raided QNX talent in Ottawa, setting up an office in the same area to work on Apple's own automotive software project.

July 25, 2016: Bob Mansfield takes over Project Titan

From the Wall Street Journal:

Apple Inc. has tapped a highly-regarded senior executive who helped bring to market many of Apple's signature products to oversee its fledgling automobile project, according to people familiar with the matter.

Bob Mansfield had stepped back from a day-to-day role at the company a few years ago, after leading the hardware engineering development of products including the MacBook Air laptop computer, the iMac desktop computer, and the iPad tablet. Apple now has Mr. Mansfield running the company's secret autonomous, electric-vehicle initiative, code-named Project Titan, the people said.

Titan was previously under senior vice president of hardware engineering, Dan Riccio who took over part of Mansfield's duties at the top of Apple's hardware-based organization back in 2012. (Senior vice president of hardware technologies, Johny Srouji, took over platform architecture.)

Despite downshifting from his day-to-day responsibilities, Mansfield has still been seen regularly at Apple's Infinite Loop campus, and has remained involved with the company. Following a project review last month, it's been rumored Apple felt bringing Mansfield — who helped launch iMac, MacBook, iPhone and iPad — to what comes next, would give Titan a lead with both enormous experience and the benefit of singular focus.

It seems like a win/win all around. And that's important at a place like Apple where senior vice presidents have plates already beyond full.

Beyond whether or not Apple ever ships a car, project Titan is incredibly important to Apple's culture and technology going forward. Even with Mansfield at the steering wheel, an Apple Car based on project Titan, isn't expected to launch for several or more years. What an Apple Car looks like, how autonomous it is, at which markets it's targeted, and how Apple will both sell and "sell" a car also remain fascinating questions.


Is Project Titan really an Apple Car?

It was once. Now it's probably better to think of it as an autonomous driving platform. The distinction might be obscure right now but everything about how we drive is changing and Apple needs to build for the future, not for the present. Telsa and Uber show the direction it's going. Apple has to be there too.

So... no actual car?

It's unlikely Apple will manufacture its own engine, drive train, suspension system, etc. at this point and more likely the company will partner with a manufacturer or multiple manufacturers already adept at manufacturing those parts.

But Project Titan is more than just CarPlay?

Much more. CarPlay is an integration layer on top of existing automotive infotainment units that offers Siri and dashboard-optimized front ends for iPhone apps. Apple Car is the complete digital environment for an autonomous driving experience. In other words, CarPlay will be seen as the Moto ROKR to Apple Car's iPhone.

Will Apple Car software also run on Mac and iPhone?

That was one of the original dreams — a next-generation operating system and development stack that would leap past iOS, macOS, and Xcode the way NeXT technology's leaped past the original Mac System software.

Would Apple license a carOS to BMW, McLaren, and other car makers?

Never say never.

Are there wilder options?

Apple getting a fleet of cars built on its own dime that it then makes available as a service to anyone with an iPhone. Get it, automagically engage all your own, personal, entertainment options, and then sit back, relax, and enjoy your ride.

Sold! When can I buy... er subscribe... er, pay as I go... er, whatever!

Unknown, sadly. Probably not for a few more years, but stay tuned!