Apple Inc. (AAPL) CEO Tim Cook gave everyone the barest of hints last week about a new area where Apple is placing a big bet.
Speaking with analysts on Tuesday for the second-quarter earnings report, Cook talked excitedly about Apple's plans for autonomous systems, saying the business might extend beyond just vehicles. In June, Cook referred to autonomous vehicles as the "mother of all" artificial intelligence projects, saying they're one of the hardest things to work on. He reiterated that sentiment on the call with investors this week.
"We do have a large project going and are making a big investment in this," Cook said. "The autonomous systems can be used in a variety of ways and a vehicle is only one. There are many different areas of it and I don't want to go any further with that."
Apple diehards, investors and analysts had been speculating about the company's big, secret project long before Cook's cryptic comments. "Project Titan," the internal codename given to Apple's electric car project, has been speculated about for several years. Apple has hundreds of engineers working on the project, which is said to be focused around building a self-driving car. Project Titan was rumored to have a target release date of 2019, but that's since been pushed back to 2021. The project also came under new leadership in April 2016 when Apple executive Bob Mansfield took over and downsized the team.
The company's ambitions were practically hidden in plain sight when the California DMV posted on its webpage that Apple and 29 other companies had received a permit to test autonomous cars in the state. Soon after that, a Lexus SUV was spotted driving around Silicon Valley equipped with Lidar sensors and other autonomous technology.
Cook's comments give further credence to the idea that Apple has scrapped the idea of making a full-on self-driving car, in favor of building an autonomous system, which could have uses in the car, but possibly in other areas like robotics, drones, trucking or logistics. Those would be totally new markets for Apple, which has historically stuck to high-end devices and services that center largely around the iPhone, its biggest cash cow thus far.
Bob O'Donnell, chief analyst at TECHnalysis Research, said it's likely that Apple has moved on from entering the complicated world of car building (which has its own challenges, he noted, like "actually bending sheet metal" and working with dealers) and is instead focusing on building some kind of autonomous technology.
- I Am a Millennial Who Just Went to Kmart for the First Time Ever and Couldn't Believe This Place
- Apple's Hometown Is Among 10 of the Most Overvalued U.S. Housing Markets
- Got a Mouth Like Mooch? Why Swearing at Work Could Get You Fired
- Here's How Much Money Warren Buffett Has Made on Apple Stock in 2017 Alone