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.
January 30, 2018: Second Project Titan employee charged with stealing secrets for Chinese competitor
An Apple Inc. hardware engineer was charged by the U.S. with stealing driverless car secrets for a Chinese company, the second such case since July.
The company discovered that Jizhong Chen, who was hired in 2018, had taken photographs inside a secret work space and had downloaded 2,000 files, including manuals and schematics for the robocar project, according to a complaint in federal court in San Francisco. Prosecutors said Apple considered disclosure of the data to be "enormously damaging."
When questioned, Chen didn't tell Apple he had applied for a job with a China-based autonomous vehicle company, according to the complaint. He informed Apple this month that he intended to travel to China to visit his ill father.
Competition with China will only intensify and the opportunities for people with no honor to abuse that competition, in multiple ways and directions, will only grow.
January 26, 2018: Apple reduces Project Titan down to small team size
Apple has made some staffing changes to it's Project Titan, which many refer to as the Apple Car but is really a more encompassing autonomous technologies project.
Apple dismissed just over 200 employees this week from Project Titan, its stealthy autonomous vehicle group, people familiar with the matter told CNBC.
An Apple spokesperson acknowledged the layoffs and said the company still sees opportunity in the space:
"We have an incredibly talented team working on autonomous systems and associated technologies at Apple. As the team focuses their work on several key areas for 2019, some groups are being moved to projects in other parts of the company, where they will support machine learning and other initiatives, across all of Apple," the spokesperson said. "We continue to believe there is a huge opportunity with autonomous systems, that Apple has unique capabilities to contribute, and that this is the most ambitious machine learning project ever."
John Gruber, writing for Daring Fireball:
Some perspective here. Project Titan is big — there are still a lot of people working on it. Doug Field's message to the troops is that he thinks smaller teams do better work. This is not an indication that company is losing conviction on autonomous systems; it's Field structuring the project the way he wants it. Apple's statement is — as usual — true: the company is full steam ahead on this autonomous stuff.
Moving people around like this sucks. No company is great at it, even Apple. Here's hoping everyone finds a new posting, in Apple or elsewhere.
December 17, 2018: Apple poaches glasses and car designer Andrew Kim from Tesla
A while back it was all about people leaving Apple for Tesla. Now, it's increasingly about people leaving Tesla for Apple. Blips or trends, it's hard to say.
In this case, it's designer Andrew Kim. According to 9to5Mac:
After spending three years in design at Microsoft, most recently working on the company's HoloLens, Andrew Kim left for Tesla in 2016. He worked on about all of the company's vehicles, including the upcoming Model Y, next-gen Roadster, and Tesla Semi.
Last week, Kim shared on Instagram about his first day at Apple with his title on LinkedIn set as "Designer."
Let the Mixed-Reality Car rumors fly!
August 31, 2018: Nissan Leaf crashes into Apple Car — Humans 0 : AI 1
Apple has been testing its autonomous driving system for a while now in specially outfitted Lexus SUVs. On August 24, a Nissan Leaf decided to have a go at one.
From the California DMV, via MacRumors:
On August 24th at 2:58 p.m., an Apple vehicle in autonomous mode was rear-ended while preparing to merge onto Lawrence Expressway South from Kifer Road. The Apple test vehicle was traveling less than 1 mph waiting for a safe gap to complete the merge when a 2016 Nissan Leaf contacted the Apple test vehicle at approximately 15 mph. Both vehicles sustained damage and no injuries were reported by either party.
No fault on Apple or its Project Titan-mobile here. Humans, watch where you're going!
August 15, 2018: Apple Car release date rumored for 2023-2025
Apple supply-chain exfiltrator extraordinaire, Kuo Ming-Chi of TF International Securities, has sent out a new note to investors and, as usual, it's making the rounds.
We expect that Apple Car, which will likely be launched in 2023–2025, will be the next star product. The reasons for this are as follows: (1) Potentially huge replacement demands are emerging in the auto sector because it is being redefined by new technologies. The case is the same as the smartphone sector 10 years ago; (2) Apple's leading technology advantages (e.g. AR) would redefine cars and differentiate Apple Car from peers' products; (3) Apple's service will grow significantly by entering the huge car finance market via Apple Car, and (4) Apple can do a better integration of hardware, software, and service than current competitors in the consumer electronics sector and potential competitors in the auto sector.
Because Kuo's sources are tied to the supply chain, and the Apple Car isn't in any stage of production yet, it's hard to tell where he got those numbers from. Still, we're still years away from AR and ML technologies being ready for even semi-autonomous mainstream vehicles, so as guesses go it's certainly not the worst.
When combined with the upcoming Apple AR Glasses and growing services revenue, Kuo thinks it could drive the new trillion-dollar company to a 2 trillion dollar valuation.
As a reminder, though: Nothing unshipped exists. Expect those trillions only when you see them.
August 9, 2018: From Mac to Tesla and back to Titan: Doug Field returns to Apple
Doug Field, who helped run Mac hardware at Apple before going to Tesla for the Model, 3 is back at Apple and working on Apple's car project, Titan.
From Daring Fireball:
Here's some interesting hiring news I've heard through the little birdie grapevine:1 Doug Field — who left Tesla in May after overseeing Model 3 production — has returned to Apple, working in Bob Mansfield's project Titan group. Apple spokesperson Tom Neumayr confirmed with me only that Field has returned to Apple, but no one should find it surprising that he's working on Titan.
Field previously worked at Apple as a VP of Mac hardware engineering before leaving for Tesla 2013. So he spent years working closely (and successfully) with Mansfield on Mac hardware, and spent the last few years as senior VP of engineering at the world's premiere electric carmaker. That makes Field a seemingly perfect fit for Titan.
And, yeah, Gruber's also got the prerequisite Bob and Doug joke...
December 21, 2017: Apple granted patent for autonomous vehicle navigation
Apple has been granted a patent on a self-driving vehicle navigation system. The patent outlines ways to create more efficient self-driving vehicles using data stored on the vehicle in question.
The patent claims that many autonomous vehicle systems base their navigation on static information — like maps — and use sensors to identify real-time information on the elements that change from day to day, as a way of minimizing the intense computing power needed to drive a car.
Instead, Apple's system would be able to direct the car "independently of any data received from any devices external to the vehicle, and any navigation data stored locally to the vehicle prior to any monitoring of navigation." Apple's technology proposes a computerized model for predicting routes using sensors and processors in the vehicle.
December 10, 2017: Apple's on the hunt for AI engineers
Wired reported midday Saturday on a recent Apple-hosted professional lunch for AI engineers. Hosted by Apple's director of artificial intelligence, Ruslan Salakhutdinov, the lunch revealed several results from the company's AI projects:
The scale and scope of any car project at Apple remains unclear. Salakhutdinov didn't say how the projects he discussed Friday fit into any wider effort in automated driving, and a company spokesman declined to elaborate.
Salakhutdinov showed data from one project previously disclosed in a research paper posted online last month. It trained software to identify pedestrians and cyclists using 3-D scanners called lidars used on most autonomous vehicles.
August 23, 2017: Apple planning autonomous shuttle between Palo Alto and Infinite Loop
The New York Times has recapitulated a lot of the recent history of Apple's car project, codenamed Titan. There's a new bit, though, that focuses on the idea of autonomous shuttle between Paulo Alto and Apple's Infinite Loop campus.
Apple's testing vehicles will carry employees between its various Silicon Valley offices. The new effort is called PAIL, short for Palo Alto to Infinite Loop, the address of the company's main office in Cupertino, Calif., and a few miles down the road from Palo Alto, Calif.
Apple's in-house shuttle service, which isn't operational yet, follows Waymo, Uber and a number of car companies that have been testing driverless cars on city streets around the world.
Autonomous shuttles is an idea that was bandied about for a while both inside the project and out. It'll be interesting to see when and how they go ahead.
June 13, 2017: Tim Cook confirms Apple is working on the mother of all AI projects — autonomous driving
Apple doesn't talk about special projects or unannounced products, except Apple's CEO, Tim Cook, just did. Specifically about Titan, Apple's long-rumored autonomous driving — née Apple Car — initiative.
We're focusing on autonomous systems. It's a core technology that we view as very important. We sort of see it as the mother of all AI projects. It's probably one of the most difficult A.I. projects actually to work on.
Cook wouldn't say whether Apple would produce an "Apple Car" for sale or for ride-sharing, or partner with another manufacturer, service, or several.
We'll see where it takes us. We're not really saying from a product point of view what we will do.
What Apple is currently doing is focusing on everything it takes to ingest the world around us and understanding what it means in the context of navigating it and actually driving it. In other words, getting from where you are to where you're going, all through an autonomous system.
Where that system ends up, and the experience around it, we'll have to wait and see.
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.
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!
Updated June 13, 2017 with comments from Tim Cook on Apple's autonomous driving project.