Reading Project Titan’s Tea Leaves

Immediately after rumors reported Apple had laid off a group of people involved with project Titan, I received calls from media who took this to mean project Titan is dead and Apple is no longer doing some type of car. The death of Project Titan is absurd. If they were going to kill it, why would they bring back Bob Mansfield to manage the project, one of the superstars at Apple whose most recent job was to manage all of their hardware.

What I think happened is, when Mansfield got to look at Project Titan, he quickly determined what the real goal of the project was and let people go who were working in areas that were no longer relative. I suspect that early on Apple hired a lot of people from many disciplines as they were researching this subject and playing around with what they should do if they had a product related to automotive. Knowing Apple as I do, I would not be surprised if they entertained everything from doing their own car to new ways to integrate their technology into new or current vehicles with the goal of providing more Apple services to one of the most mobile devices we have.

My personal belief is Project Titan is not about creating an Apple Car. It just does not make sense to me, given the fact that just about every major car manufacturer is already working on their own versions of a smart or self-driving car. However, if you look at what I believe the biggest opportunity in automobiles really is, you would see it would be to make existing cars smart or self-driving on their own.

I believe this is the most plausible explanation of what Project Titan is all about. At its simplest level, it could involve beefing up Apple’s CarPlay in vehicles that support it now, as well as finding a way to add it to existing cars of all makes so any user could have Apple Play in their car and tie them to Apple services. But there is another possible moonshot idea I find most interesting and it is what I consider a holy grail of autonomous vehicles.

If you have seen one of Google’s autonomous vehicles, you would notice two things. The first is they have taken an existing car and given it intelligence, sensors, and many cameras so it can operate as an autonomous vehicle. The second thing you will notice, since it stands out in a big way, is it has on its roof a 360-degree camera that is large and ugly. Clearly not created to make the vehicle design sleek or attractive.

What if Apple could create a “kit” or special self-driving package that is relatively easy to deploy at a dealer or by a mechanic that could integrate those sensors and cameras into an existing car. It would include a dash-attached iPad to deliver the kind of intelligence and navigation needed to operate a self-driving vehicle, as well as Apple CarPlay. Instead of an ugly camera on top, Jony Ive and team could design a very sleek attachment for the roof in neutral colors that has cameras in it to handle more of the sophisticated visual needs for a self-driving vehicle.

Think of what a gold mine that would be. Even if it is expensive to add this feature to an existing car, it will be much, much cheaper than buying a new autonomous driving vehicle from major car companies. And it allows people to take their own cars and retrofit them for what appears to be the future of personal vehicle transportation.

Of course, the other benefit is Apple brings more people into their services ecosystem and allows them to grow their services business well beyond what they can with just iPhones, iPads, and Macs.

I realize doing this type of “kit” is not easy but, given the fact Google has already done this to an existing car, it is in the realm of possibility Apple could do it as well and do it much better.

BTW, regardless if Apple is the one to deliver something like this, I believe retrofitting existing cars to make them self-driving will become one of the biggest automobile businesses in the next 5-10 years.

So if Apple did something of this nature, what type of timeline could we expect from them to deliver a product like this? My belief is they would probably do it in two stages. The first stage would be a retrofit kit to add Apple CarPlay to any vehicle. It would need to include an iPad that is dash-attachable and a better way to integrate into a vehicle’s existing entertainment system. I would not be surprised if they could get something like this to market in late 2017 or early 2018.

As for an autonomous driving retrofit kit, there is probably still a huge amount of work before they could deliver something like this but a good guess, and it’s just a guess as to when they could get something to the market, would be 2020 or somewhere around that time.

This is pure speculation on my part but I have never believed Apple was going to do a car of their own. It would be smarter to buy Telsa than to go down that path. On the other hand, it is highly plausible Apple could deliver a CarPlay retrofit kit for existing cars and a self-driving retrofit kit for existing vehicles sometime in the relatively near future.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

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