Amidst reports of layoffs across Apple's rumored car division, I fielded several calls from reporters who assumed the news meant Project Titan was dead and Apple had abandoned car-related efforts altogether.
That's absurd. If Cupertino was killing Project Titan, why would it bring back Bob Mansfield, former vice president of engineering, to manage the project? Instead, I imagine Mansfield returned, assessed Project Titan, and tightened its focus, which unfortunately led to layoffs.
In the beginning, Apple likely hired a lot of people from many disciplines as it was researching and playing around with what it should do in the automotive space. Knowing Apple as I do, I would not be surprised if it entertained everything from doing its own car to new ways to integrate its technology into existing vehicles.
My personal belief is that Project Titan is not about creating an Apple Car. It just does not make sense given the competition from traditional auto makers. Instead, the biggest opportunity I see for Apple is creating software that makes existing cars smart or autonomous.
At its simplest level, Titan will beef up Apple's CarPlay. But what if Apple created a "kit" or special self-driving package that is relatively easy to deploy at a dealer or by a mechanic and integrates the sensors and cameras seen on Google's self-driving vehicles into an existing car? An iPad in the dash could deliver intelligence and navigation. And instead of an ugly 360-degree camera up top, Jony Ive and team could design a sleek roof attachment.
Think of what a goldmine that would be. Even if it's pricey, it will be much cheaper than buying a new autonomous car.
Of course, the other benefit is that Apple brings more people into its services ecosystem and grows its business beyond iPhones, iPads and Macs.
In a recent LinkedIn post by Dan Lyons (aka Fake Steve Jobs), he stated that we might eventually "think of a car as just a container for software and services, a node on the Internet of Things." I believe this is at the heart of what Project Titan is really all about.
I realize that doing this type of "kit" is not easy, but given the fact that Google has already done this to an existing car, it is in the realm of possibility that Apple could do it, too. I would not be surprised to see it in the next few years, but even if Apple isn't the first to try it, I think retrofitting existing cars to make them self-driving vehicles will become big businesses in the next five to 10 years.