How Apple Used its Car Project to Drive Wider Innovation

Tim Cook, Apple’s C.E.O., pulled the plug on the company’s ambitious electric car project, but the innovation behind it has been used in other products and services.Credit…Angela Weiss/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Innovation on wheels

Has Apple really crashed the car? The tech giant has killed its electric vehicle project as it pivots to artificial intelligence, prompting many observers to declare the venture a major failure for the company.

Here’s a contrarian thought: That critique misses a wider point about how Apple innovates, because the company has used the project to power a whole ecosystem of products and services that have been unmitigated successes.

Apple invested billions to build a self-driving car. Reports emerged about thesecret effort, code-named Project Titan, in 2014, and the company has never publicly acknowledged its existence. That said, it told staff on Tuesday that many of them would be redeployed.

There had been an wider internal debate about getting into the car business. An E.V. was seen by some as the ultimate data-collection device and as a way to diversify from the iPhone.

But others questioned what kind of margins cars would deliver, especially in a market locked in a price war. The answer: nothing like the profits packed into an iPhone or Apple Watch, which have helped Apple reach a near $3 trillion valuation.

The car project was an R.&D. lab on wheels. In the same year that speculation started about Project Titan, Apple released CarPlay. That has morphed into a software system that, as of 2022, had been installed in 98 percent of new cars in the U.S., pulling more consumers into Apple’s universe. Years of testing self-driving cars has also helped improve that platform, as well as providing data to inform Apple Maps and to push further into augmented reality.

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