The End of Project Titan

This week, we got the news that Apple canceled its Apple Car program (Project Titan). Apple spent the last ten years poking around the edges of making cars and, according to Bloomberg, got to a critical decision point recently and decided to pass.

I’m relieved for several reasons:

  • Apple is best when it’s focused, and getting into the car business would be a massive distraction.
  • While I’m sure Apple could make a nice car, there are a lot of nice cars. Apple can make a more significant impact on consumer electronics. (Look at how the wearable headset space turned upside down last month.)
  • I wonder how Apple could have continued to partner with automakers with Apple CarPlay once they entered the market and became competitors. Also, what would motivate Apple to make CarPlay better if they preferred you to buy their car instead?
  • (Selfishly) The Apple Car would be an Apple Product I couldn’t afford.

My big point, however, is that first one: I don’t know how they could build out the car business and retain their current focus on the Apple products I like most.

Is AI Apple’s Siri Moonshot?

The Information has an article by Wayne Ma reporting Apple is spending “millions of dollars a day” on Artificial Intelligence initiatives. The article is pay-walled, but The Verge summarizes it nicely.

Apple has multiple teams working on different AI initiatives throughout the company, including Large Language Models (LLMs), image generation, and multi-modal AI, which can recognize and produce “images or video as well as text”.

The Information article reports Apple’s Ajax GPT was trained on more than 200 billion parameters and is more potent than GPT 3.5.

I have a few points on this.

First, this should be no surprise.

I’m sure folks will start writing about how Apple is now desperately playing catch-up. However, I’ve seen no evidence that Apple got caught with its pants down on AI. They’ve been working on Artificial Intelligence for years. Apple’s head of AI, John Giannandrea, came from Google, and he’s been with Apple for years. You’d think that people would know by now that just because Apple doesn’t talk about things doesn’t mean they are not working on things.

Second, this should dovetail into Siri and Apple Automation.

If I were driving at Apple, I’d make the Siri, Shortcuts and AI teams all share the same workspace in Apple Park. Thus far, AI has been smoke and mirrors for most people. If Apple could implement it in a way that directly impacts our lives, people will notice.

Shortcuts with its Actions give them an easy way to pull this off. Example: You leave 20 minutes late for work. When you connect to CarPlay, Siri asks, “I see you are running late for work. Do you want me to text Tom?” That seems doable with an AI and Shortcuts. The trick would be for it to self-generate. It shouldn’t require me to already have a “I’m running late” shortcut. It should make it dynamically as needed. As reported by 9to5Mac, Apple wants to incorporate language models to generate automated tasks.

Similarly, this technology could result in a massive improvement to Siri if done right. Back in reality, however, Siri still fumbles simple requests routinely. There hasn’t been the kind of improvement that users (myself included) want. Could it be that all this behind-the-scenes AI research is Apple’s ultimate answer on improving Siri? I sure hope so.

CarPlay’s Unsurprising Success

Strategy Analytics released a report explaining how happy car owners are with Apple CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto in their vehicles. This is hardly shocking. 

Several months ago I put an after-market CarPlay device in my Ford and it is better than Ford’s previous built-in system in literally every way. When it comes to placing the air conditioner knob on the dashboard, car manufacturers are aces. However, they have never been good at operating systems and user interface design. Apple and Google both have people that are far better at that issue than anyone working for a car company and it shows.

With CarPlay the voice commands actually work and my iPhone operates as the brains for my dashboard giving me better maps, better audio, and the ability to listen to text messages without me taking my eyes off the road. Since installing CarPlay, I now keep my iPhone inside the center console, plugged into a lightning cable and powering the CarPlay from a place where I can’t even access the phone, making things safer to boot.

 With all of this success, Apple still has a ways to go and I hope they continue to put resources into making the best possible CarPlay they can. I believe number one on their priority list should be the ability to use third-party navigation apps. Ford is working with Waze on that now but I think it’s in Apple’s best interest to make that as easy as possible for everyone, including Google. Maps.