Apple eats a big slice of humble pie, nixes plans to build cars (for now)

October 18, 2016

For a year and a half, everyone has been talking about Apple's self-driving electric car--everyone but Apple, that is. The company hasn't even confirmed what is, by all accounts, one of the tech world's worst-kept secrets: the existence of Project Titan, the Apple division tasked with building the rumored car. 

But now it appears that Project Titan is charting a dramatically new course. According to Bloomberg, Apple is reconsidering its plan to build self-driving vehicles and may instead build only the software that powers those vehicles.

Which means that, in a rare move for Apple, it's going to license its software for use on non-Apple devices.

Following Google's lead

That's exactly the path that Google has taken in other areas. While it's generated some success with products like the Chromecast and its new Pixel line of smartphones, Google's forte is software. And so, it has largely avoided making physical devices and instead developed operating systems and apps for other hardware manufacturers to employ.

That said, Google appeared to be working a different angle with its autonomous cars, which it's been developing for over seven years. In 2014, the company unveiled its own, quirkily designed self-driving vehicle, but the following year, it became clear that software was where Google was investing the bulk of its resources. Earlier this year, Google and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles unveiled a new partnership in which Google would begin using FCA vehicles for its autonomous car prototypes.

And now, it appears that Apple may do the same. Yes, Apple: the company so proprietary that it has forced users to amass mountains of obsolete dongles and, more recently, killed off the beloved headphone jack, just so that it could maintain strict control over its hardware designs.

Changing course

What went wrong with Project Titan? Apple's not saying. However, it appears that "hundreds" of the division's roughly 1,000 team members have been fired, transferred to other Apple programs, or found employment elsewhere.

The inside scoop is that Apple ran into three major problems:

1. Poor leadership on the car project.

2. A realization that building cars isn't as "simple" as building computers and smartphones.

3. A subsequent realization that the profit margin on cars isn't as fat as it is on the company's current devices.

Insiders say that the remaining Project Titan team members have been given until late 2017 to make a case for continuing the program. Depending on their persuasive abilities, Project Titan might begin building vehicles after all; the whole thing could be scrapped; or Apple might make self-driving software that it could license to automakers, with the possibility of building its own vehicles down the road. 

Stay tuned.

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