It's not a question of "if" but rather "when" Apple's Titan initiative hits the road.
Speculation concerning an Apple’s self-driving car received a jolt in response to a recent Bloomberg report. According to the Bloomberg story:
– Apple’s Titan project is now focused on self-driving capabilities in addition to being a battery electric vehicle (BEV).
– Apple has completed much of the core work on the processor for its AV-EV car. The chip will use neural processors that can handle AI needed for autonomous driving.
– Apple is rightly focusing on safety and will include redundancy on multiple levels.
– Apple is accelerating its car development; an AV-EV could be announced as early as 2025.
– The company is considering different business models ranging from robotaxis to personal AVs.
Bloomberg’s report also focused on a potential new leader for the Titan project: Kevin Lynch, who led Apple’s watch development. Lynch is a software expert with much more expertise than previous Titan managers. The software driver is by far the most difficult development challenge for a self-driving car.
Most rumors about Apple products are unreliable, but Bloomberg’s story seems to contain viable data.
Did Apple leak some tantalizing details?
That may be warranted since the Titan project was launched in 2014, with multiple twists and turns along the way. For example, Lynch is the fifth engineer to lead the Apple initiative.
This column focuses on two questions:
– Why is Apple seeking to enter the connected and autonomous BEV market?
– How may Apple emerge as a player in a new and rapidly evolving market?
Why does Apple want to be in the car business? The simple answer is that Apple is running out of big opportunities, and the AV-EV segment fits with what Apple does best. To understand the opportunity gap, it is useful to look at Apple’s revenue trends by product segment. The table below is a yearly summary of Apple’s net revenue and product segment share by revenue. Apple’s fiscal year ends in September.
Apple’s revenue is still growing but has slowed compared to the four-year period ending in 2014. In 2010, Apple’s net revenue topped $65 billion and grew to nearly $183 billion by 2014, a more than 29-percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR). Strong growth reflected the success of the iPhone. Between 2014 and 2020, however, Apple’s net sales grew at only a 7 percent CAGR as iPhone revenue peaked in 2018 and has since declined. Between 2014 and 2020, Apple has since recorded two years with declining revenue and three years with less than 7-percent growth.
This year was different as the pandemic supercharged Apple’s sales with over 33 percent growth. Revenue from iPhone sales jumped more than 39 percent to an all-time high. But 2021 growth was an exception.
Looking at Apple’s product segments in the above table, the wearables category is doing well, but 10 to 11 percent of sales means watches are unlikely to be another iPhone. It is a similar story for services at about 19 percent of revenue—services require new hardware-software product categories to grow.
Hence, Apple must identify really big opportunities to continue growing. To grow just 10 percent from 2021, the company needs another $36 billion in revenues. By comparison, companies ranked from No. 325 to 332 by the 2021 Global Fortune 500 list had total revenue in the range of $36 billion. Apple was ranked sixth on the Fortune list based on 2020 revenue.
The “new” automotive and transportation industries present huge market opportunities measured in trillions of dollars. Those industries are built on disruptive technologies, Apple’s sweet spot. CEO Tim Cook told Bloomberg: “The kinds of things we love to work on are those where there’s a requirement for hardware, software and services to come together.”
AV-EV is such a category.
The next figure offers a scenario for how Apple’s AV-EV development may unfold. It is, of course, pure speculation but may provide insights into the possibilities.
The blue boxes offer perspectives on Apple’s technology development extending back many years and continuing as long as Apple remains in the automotive business.
Assume that Apple may introduce a prototype at least a year before a product is launched. That scenario is similar to how the iPhone was introduced, and will help establish an AV-EV ecosystem around Apple’s platform.
Black boxes showing three generations of advance prototypes serve as the basis for later product introductions.
Red boxes signify AV-EV products that follow a similar trend line with more information below. Apple is most interested in consumer products, and this also applies to AV-EV. However, AV technology for passenger cars will take longer than AVs based on mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) such as robotaxis and goods AVs.
Three AV-EV generations are included, with the first generation providing only L1 through L3 autonomy capabilities.
Assume also that Apple will have a fleet similar to robotaxis to refine its self-driving capabilities and prepare for personal AVs. Three generations of fleet robotaxis are shown in green boxes with increasing capabilities based on the prototypes.
Apple has already completed much of its technology development. An AI neural chip is well on its way, according to Bloomberg. Similarly, the AV sensor system and AV software driver must be far along as they are the most complex systems.
Safety and redundancy are correctly being emphasized. Apple often uses its best supplier for key technologies. It may use Mobileye for L1-L2-L3 functionality that should be available in its first product. Mobileye also provides the best redundancy strategy for sensor systems—one system based on cameras and another using radar and lidar—and they operate independently.
Apple is also likely to include V2X functionality as it has long-term benefits to improve driving safety for AVs and ADAS vehicles. C-V2X is likely part of Apple’s product rollout.
The aspiring car designer is already participating in the development of infotainment systems with its iPhone apps and related services. Apple is likely to greatly expand the infotainment systems in its AV-EV, and may add premium audio systems. Those systems are among the most profitable segment in the auto industry, and Apple possesses products and resources for competing with Harman, Bose and others.
With AVs, premium video content will emerge as a new infotainment growth market segment. Apple should be a major contender. The segment has been dubbed the AV “Passenger Economy,” with long term potential as vehicle passengers travel or commute many hours per week, consuming video content along the way.
It is likely that Apple will expand its apps ecosystem for the AV-EV market, which I consider a car app store ecosystem along with AV user apps and services. This segment will grow into another app store success for Apple in the decade following its introduction.
Apple is likely to reveal a prototype AV-EV about 18 months before a product is delivered to customers. This will allow infrastructure development for apps, content and other support needed for a new product category. This strategy worked very well for the iPhone launch in 2007.
The BEV portion of the prototype will have at least a 400-miles range. Charging speed is expected to be at the high-end for its timeframe.
AV functionality will primarily be at the ADAS level, with full L1-L2-L3 capabilities that include a driver monitoring system (DMS). Limited L4 capabilities for MaaS usage could be included for fleet applications.
The second- and third-generation prototypes will expand on these capabilities: BEV range, premium audio and video features and content, L4 operational design domain (ODD) capabilities as well as content and services portfolio will expand quickly.
AV-EV for Fleets
It unclear whether Apple will participate in MaaS use cases such as robotaxis and goods deliveries. My perspective is that Apple will participate in robotaxi segments to build AV experience for key cities, helping to launch personal AVs later.
Three generations of fleet-centric AV-EV products are shown in the green boxes above. The first generation is likely to use safety drivers that eventually transition to teleoperation.
The second will have expanded L4 and ODD capabilities. Details will depend on AV regulations by region. Teleoperation is included in all AV regulations so far. Hence, all AVs are expected to include some type of teleoperation.
Third-generation fleets are on a similar path—expanded L4 capabilities and ODD, growing Apple content and AV-related service portfolios.
The main question is whether Apple will have its own MaaS brand, or will the company use MaaS operators such as Lyft, Uber and others. My guess is that Apple will do both to quickly gain experience and data for rapid development improvements.
Apple’s main customers have always been individual consumers seeking a premium product. This positioning strategy will remain for its AV-EV. L4 AV technology is not likely to be ready until after 2025 for personal AVs. Hence, Apple’s first personal version is expected to include only L3 AV technology. For safety reasons, a premium DMS is expected to be included.
Apple-centric infotainment systems will be featured with premium audio systems and access as well as integration to other Apple systems. Premium video capabilities may also be included, but only for rear-seat passengers or in park mode.
The second-generation personal AV-EV is expected to have limited L4 capabilities for some ODDs. The ODD capabilities will depend on regions and on what type of AV regulations are introduced over the next five years.
The third-generation is expected to expand L4 and ODD capabilities. The AV car apps ecosystem will then accelerate and provide new Apple content consumption opportunities.
Apple will continue to keep a tight lid on information about Project Titan. Given the lack of information, analysts will speculate.
Here are a few questions:
Apple needs to enter new product segments, and AV-EV markets are at the top of the opportunity list. It is no longer a question of “if,” rather when Apple’s AV-EV car arrives. Among the unknowns are how fast the rollout will occur, which suppliers and EV manufacturer(s) are used. Lastly, what AV-MaaS markets will be tapped?
This article was originally published on EE Times.
Egil Juliussen has over 35 years’ experience in the high-tech and automotive industries. Most recently he was director of research at the automotive technology group of IHS Markit. His latest research was focused on autonomous vehicles and mobility-as-a-service. He was co-founder of Telematics Research Group, which was acquired by iSuppli (IHS acquired iSuppli in 2010); before that he co-founded Future Computing and Computer Industry Almanac. Previously, Dr. Juliussen was with Texas Instruments where he was a strategic and product planner for microprocessors and PCs. He is the author of over 700 papers, reports and conference presentations. He received B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from Purdue University, and is a member of SAE and IEEE.