It is easier to get news from Pyongyang than to get accurate information about what is happening at Apple. About all anyone can do is read the tea leaves based on current hirings and firings and try to figure out what direction the company is going in with regard to its interest in autonomous driving technology.
Just last week, we learned that the company has brought back Bob Mansfield — a semi-retired senior executive who was close to Apple founder Steve Jobs — to take over the reins at Project Titan. That’s the code name the company has given to its secretive autonomous car project. Mansfield reports directly to Apple CEO Tim Cook. Previously, the project was headed by Steve Zadeski, who reported to hardware chief Dan Riccio. Zadeski has since left the company.
One of Mansfield’s first moves is hiring Dan Dodge away from BlackBerry. Dodge is the founder of QXN. He was reportedly involved with creating autonomous driving software for BlackBerry. Bringing Dodge on board suggests Apple is now focusing more on creating the software systems that will usher in the era of self driving vehicles than in building an actual car itself. Sources within the company hint that Apple could contract the actual building of a car to an established company. It also has enough money in the bank to buy an existing car company if its chooses to do so.
Apple has boosted investment in research and development by a third compared to last year. It’s annual R&D budget now stands at $2.6 billion. “The products that are in R&D, there is quite a bit of investment in there for products and services that are not currently shipping or derivations of what is currently shipping,” Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook said in a conference call to discuss earnings Tuesday. “There’s a lot of stuff that we’re doing beyond the current products.”
To add fuel to the speculative fires, a number of new Tesla Model X vehicles was spotted recently outside the facility that is thought to be the headquarters for Project Titan. There presence has caused quite a bit of speculation. It could be that Apple is planning to tear the two cars apart to learn some of Tesla’s secrets — a common industry practice. Or it could be that it just wants its people to get better acquainted with what Elon Musk calls “the best car ever made.”
Whatever the reality, reports from inside Apple say the move to bring Bob Mansfield and Dan Dodge on board means the timeline for Project Titan — whatever it might be — has been pushed back a full year from 2019 to 2020.