The Apple Titan project, i.e. Cupertino's electrically driven and autonomous Apple Car, would not be dead yet. Indeed: according to Reuters in 2024 the first cars of the bitten apple could touch the asphalt of American roads. This is yet another indiscretion on a project that has been much talked about in the past and that has already caused many disappointments to Apple fans.
A connected and electric car produced by Apple has been talked about for at least ten years, but it is since 2014 that the hypothesis seems concrete with a 100% Apple project, which starts from scratch. But building cars is not like building smartphones and soon Apple realized that the thing was not as simple as it could think, which is why it decided to take a big step back by falling back on the design and implementation of the electronic part of this driverless electric car, to be sold then to interested manufacturers. In 2018, Apple called back Doug Field, a former Apple man who was working at Tesla at the time, to take over Project Titan. The result was a mass layoff: team zeroed out, 190 qualified engineers and technicians sent home. At the time, almost everyone believed that the Apple Car project was definitely dead, but now Reuters claims to have credible reports of a possible arrival of the car by 2024. Will it be true?
Apple Car: the hypothesis of Reuters
Because when we talk about Project Titan and the Apple Car we are usually wrong, let's point out that despite Reuters has absolutely nothing to prove as to reliability and seriousness everything we are about to describe should be taken with a huge benefit of the doubt. The same Reuters, on the other hand, cites only anonymous sources.
The current project of Apple Car would provide a car for personal use, unlike what they are going to launch on the market (they do) companies like Google-Waymo: a self-driving cab for collective mobility. Apple's hope is to replicate the success of the iPhone, in the same way: to bring to market a product that already exists (at the time it was the smartphone, in 2024 it will be the self-driving electric car) but much better than those of the competition.
On the one hand, that of connectivity and the smart ecosystem that revolves around the car, Apple has all the credentials to have a huge success. On the other, that of mechanics and batteries for the electric car, it's a newcomer to the market. Will it make it? According to anonymous sources quoted by Reuters, at least as far as the battery is concerned, yes, thanks to the "single-cell" design.
Apple Car: a battery like that of smartphones
Today almost a third of the cost of an electric car is attributable to the battery. It's clear that those who can produce batteries cheaper than others win, leaving everyone behind. Apple's secret would be the battery with a "single cell" design, something similar to the batteries of smartphones that Apple has been dealing with for years.
With this desing the cells of the lithium-ion batteries of the Apple Car should be all side by side and not grouped into modules. In this way the battery costs much less and can store more energy in the same space and with the same weight.
This is nothing new: both the American Tesla (the now famous "tabless" 4680 batteries) and the Chinese CATL (the "cell-to-pack" batteries) are already doing it. Reuters also says that Apple is thinking about LFP batteries, that is Lithium-Iron-Phosphate, that (but this Reuters does not say) are less likely to ignite but also less able to accumulate energy. And, in any case, these batteries are hardly new either.
We'll see if Apple can do better than the competition, assuming it can find someone willing to produce its batteries: right now, automotive lithium-ion battery production capacity is less than market demand. In 2024, maybe.
Who will produce Apple's self-driving electric car
If Apple can engineer an innovative battery, and get it produced, then it will have to produce everything else: from the windshield to the tire. Reuters reports hint that Apple will not produce anything, but will have everything produced. And that's probably the wisest choice.
But Reuters itself puts its hands on the table and says that, because of supply chain problems due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the market arrival date could slip to 2025 or even beyond.
Apple's only strength
Apple's only real strength regarding Project Titan, design aside, is the electronics related to connecting the car to the Internet and the software with which the car interfaces with humans.
It is well known that iOS, while being an extremely limiting operating system for users compared to Android, is beloved by users themselves. Because it runs smoothly, it doesn't give problems and, being armored (external developers can't do anything Apple doesn't want), it's also safer.
Same goes for Apple CarPlay, Apple's car infotainment management system, which is a cut above Android Auto: it works well, it's easy to use, users are satisfied.
Applying this philosophy to the Apple Car could be a great advantage for Apple, but only if there will be only one Apple Car and it will be Apple branded: should Apple decide (as it is currently thought) to create a car management system to sell to car manufacturers, things would change a lot.
In fact, it is unlikely that Volskwagen or General Motors, Toyota or PSA, will let Apple impose the hardware to be used to make their cars compatible with Project Titan.
Finally, there is also competition in this field and it is called Android Automotive. That is, the operating system for Google's cars that will not arrive in 2024 or 2025, but is already available (albeit with many limitations and not without flaws) on Polestar 2 electric cars.
Apple Car self-driving?
As for autonomous driving, however, at the moment we do not know anything concrete about the solution that the Apple Car should adopt. The few prototypes seen so far on the road had Lidar (the laser radar that Apple also uses on the iPhone 12). so it is thought to a solution technically similar to that of Google-Waymo that is based on preloaded maps (or downloaded from the cloud) that trace the road to the car, which then adapts according to what is detected during the drive to avoid pedestrians, bicycles, cars or other obstacles.
The problem, in this case, is that if the maps used are those of Apple Maps then Apple Cars will be doing a lot of driving outside the United States and the major urban centers of Europe and Asia. From this point of view Google is thousands of years (millions of kilometers) ahead.
The Tesla Autopilot system, on the contrary, doesn't use neither Lidar nor maps but only high resolution cameras and classic radars and calculates everything in real time thanks to the new hardware engineered in house (until last year Tesla cars were equipped with Nvidia chips).