Thoughts on Project Titan

Yesterday afternoon, the Apple-centric corner of the Internet freaked out over a report from The Wall Street Journal that said Cupertino has “several hundred” people working on an electric car project named “Project Titan:”

Mr. Cook approved the car project almost a year ago and assigned veteran product design Vice President Steve Zadesky to lead the group, the people familiar with the matter said. Mr. Zadesky is a former Ford engineer who helped lead the Apple teams that created the iPod and iPhone.

Mr. Zadesky was given permission to create a 1,000-person team and poach employees from different parts of the company, one of the people familiar with the matter said. Working from a private location a few miles from Apple’s corporate headquarters in Cupertino, the team is researching different types of robotics, metals and materials consistent with automobile manufacturing, the people said.

(Reuters says the project is for self-driving cars, but I tend to believe the WSJ more on Apple stuff.)

My immediate response was one I saw all over Twitter: that if Apple is already doing too much, what happens if this is true?

I think this a valid concern, despite the knee-jerk humor. iOS and OS X are moving at a speed that doesn’t feel sustainable, and a lot of the pro-Apple camp agree.[1]

All that aside, Apple moving deeper into the automotive industry is fascinating.

CarPlay may not be perfect, but I think Apple could move the needle in a real way when it comes to in-car entertainment.

My car is less than a year old, and while it doesn’t wear a luxury brand’s badge, it came with a relatively sophisticated in-dash system, but it just kinda sucks in a bunch of ways. The software and hardware works, but it’s clunky and unattractive … not unlike the MP3 players of 2000 and the smart phones of 2006.

This rumor is about something way bigger than taking over the dashboard, however. While the Jobs-ruled Apple had shockingly low R&D budgets, that’s changing under Tim Cook. It makes sense that a company of Apple’s size spend time and money investigating new projects, and things learned in tinkering with an electric car could benefit lots of other Apple products.

I don’t think an R&D project is enough to light ourselves on fire concerning Apple being stretched too thin.

While Project Titan may not end up sitting in my driveway any time soon, it very well could one day in the future. I think Cook and his team know, that at some point, Apple may need to branch out beyond consumer electronics. That may very well include a car — or parts of a car — at some point. The lines between the technology industry and the automotive industry are blurring.

That idea may not sit comfortably with me at this point, but I’m reminded of what people have said throughout the ages about a computer with a mouse, a music player from a dying computer company and a phone from PC guys.

Clearly electric vehicles are part of our future, and in many ways, Tesla is reminiscent of Apple. There have been reports for a while now of the two companies trading blows in the hiring market.

So, do I think Apple is building a car? I’m not convinced they are by this report, but I do think something strange is afoot at the Circle K. And anytime Cupertino moves into a new market, it’s worth paying attention to what is going on.

  1. That said, I don’t think Project Titan is poaching many people from the Finder team.  ↩