Falling iPhone sales have apparently claimed their first victim. According to a report by CNBC and confirmed by Apple, some 200 members of Apple’s Project Titan autonomous car project have been removed from the group, as Apple re-evaluates the role artificial intelligence and machine learning plays in its products.
This is hardly the first time Apple’s car division has reportedly fallen on hard times. Rumored for years as the next big thing to come out of Cupertino, the Bob Mansfield-headed Project Titan team has grown and shrunk as Apple’s ambitions have reportedly shifted from building its own car to designing an autonomous driving system for third-party vehicles. Now it seems that the strategy is changing again, as Apple looks to apply the fruits of Project Titan’s labors to other areas:
“We have an incredibly talented team working on autonomous systems and associated technologies at Apple,” a spokesperson said. “As the team focuses their work on several key areas for 2019, some groups are being moved to projects in other parts of the company, where they will support machine learning and other initiatives, across all of Apple.”
While CNBC uses the word “layoffs” in its piece, it’s not clear that any of the employees have been let go from Apple. For its part, Apple’s says “some groups” have been moved to other areas of the company, so it’s possible that some of the 200 employees no longer work at Apple in any capacity.
But what we do know is that Apple’s Project Titan team is decidedly smaller than it was when 2019 started. It was just last year when Apple reportedly lured Doug Field back to the company after a stint at Tesla, and things were looking up for the Apple car, with Ming Chi-Kuo predicting a vehicle to come rolling out of Cupertino by 2025.
Why this matters: While the dream of an Apple car would appear to be deferred, we might start seeing greater applications of AI and machine learning across Apple products a lot sooner than 2025. By shifting around the Project Titan team, Apple is basically admitting that Siri and its “bionic” neural network is lagging when compared to Google’s TensorFlow and Assistant initiatives. While a car is still many years away, Siri, HomePod, and AirPods are here now, and could definitely use an injection of innovation and, quite frankly, just plain attention.