Project Titan’s Cancellation Seems to Have Broken Some Brains

Even though it has only been a couple of days since word got out that Apple was cancelling development of its long-rumoured though never confirmed car project, there have been a wave of takes explaining what this means, exactly. The uniqueness of this project was plenty intriguing because it seemed completely out of left field. Apple makes computers of different sizes, sure, but the largest surface you would need for any of them is a desk. And now the company was working on a car?

Much reporting during its development was similarly bizarre due to the nature of the project. Instead of leaks from within the technology industry, sources were found in auto manufacturing. Public records requests were used by reporters at the Guardian, IEEE Spectrum, and Business Insider — among others — to get a peek at its development in a way that is not possible for most of Apple’s projects. I think the unusual nature of it has broken some brains, though, and we can see that in coverage of its apparent cancellation.

Mark Gurman, of Bloomberg, in an analysis supplementing the news he broke of Project Titan’s demise. Gurman writes that Apple will now focus its development efforts on generative “A.I.” products:

The big question is how soon AI might make serious money for Apple. It’s unlikely that the company will have a full-scale AI lineup of applications and features for a few years. And Apple’s penchant for user privacy could make it challenging to compete aggressively in the market.

For now, Apple will continue to make most of its money from hardware. The iPhone alone accounts for about half its revenue. So AI’s biggest potential in the near term will be its ability to sell iPhones, iPads and other devices.

These paragraphs, from perhaps the highest-profile reporter on the Apple beat, present the company’s usual strategy for pretty much everything it makes as a temporary measure until it can — uhh — do what, exactly? What is the likelihood that Apple sells access to generative services to people who do not have its hardware products? Those odds seem very, very poor to me, and I do not understand why Gurman is framing this in the way he is.

While it is true a few Apple services are available to people who do not use the company’s hardware products, they are exclusively media subscriptions. It does not make sense to keep people from legally watching the expensive shows it makes for Apple TV Plus. iCloud features are also available outside the hardware ecosystem but, again, that seems more like a pragmatic choice for syncing. Generative “A.I.” does not fit those models and it is not, so far, a profit-making endeavour. Microsoft and OpenAI are both losing money every time their products are used, even by paying customers.

I could imagine some generative features could come to Pages or Keynote at, but only because they were also added to native applications that are only available on Apple’s platforms. But Apple still makes the vast majority of its money by selling computers to people; its services business is mostly built on those customers adding subscriptions to their Apple-branded hardware.

“A.I.” features are likely just that: features, existing in a larger context. If Apple wants, it can use them to make editing pictures better in Photos, or make Siri somewhat less stupid. It could also use trained models to make new products; Gurman nods toward the Vision Pro’s Persona feature as something which uses “artificial intelligence”. But the likelihood of Apple releasing high-profile software features separate and distinct from its hardware seems impossibly low. It has built its SoCs specifically for machine learning, after all.

Speaking of new products, Brian X. Chen and Tripp Mickle, of the New York Times, wrote a decent insiders’ narrative of the car’s development and cancellation. But this paragraph seems, quite simply, wrong:

The car project’s demise was a testament to the way Apple has struggled to develop new products in the years since Steve Jobs’s death in 2011. The effort had four different leaders and conducted multiple rounds of layoffs. But it festered and ultimately fizzled in large part because developing the software and algorithms for a car with autonomous driving features proved too difficult.

I do not understand on what basis Apple “has struggled to develop new products” in the last thirteen years. Since 2011, Apple has introduced the Apple Watch, AirPods, Vision Pro, migrated Macs to in-house SoCs causing an industry-wide reckoning, and added a bevy of services. And those are just the headlining products; there are also HomePods and AirTags, Macs with Retina displays, iPhones with facial recognition, a range of iPads that support the Apple Pencil, also a new product. None of those things existed before 2011.

These products are not all wild success stories, and some of them need a lot of work to feel great. But that list disproves the idea that Apple has “struggled” with launching new things. If anything, there has been a steady narrative over that same period that Apple has too many products. The rest of this Times report seems fine, but this one paragraph — and, really, just the first sentence — is simply incorrect.

These are all writers who cover Apple closely. They are familiar with the company’s products and strategies. These takes feel like they were written without any of that context or understanding, and it truly confuses me how any of them finished writing these paragraphs and thought they accurately captured a business they know so much about.