For years, analysts have been buzzing about Apple’s self-driving car. Apple has never officially announced “Project Titan,” but everybody knew it was happening. Rumors of trouble, however, have snowballed into an ultimatum that the team needs to decide whether Apple can build a self-driving car at all. And the problems there are paralleling issues with other Apple projects that bring into question the company’s ability to build anything other than iPhones.
Bloomberg has an analysis of Apple’s self-driving car project and its discontents, and one particular problem, it turns out, is that nobody wanted to meet Apple’s demands for building car parts:
Apple meanwhile struggled to tackle complex automotive supply chains, according to another person familiar with the situation. In smartphones, Apple wields extensive influence and often secures exclusive rights to certain parts from suppliers. For cars, the heavy investment required to make automotive parts means suppliers are less willing to commit their products to a vehicle like Apple’s which may have initially shipped in small quantities.
If that sounds familiar to Apple fans, it should. Apple was rumored to have spent years working on a television that would, analysts promised, change the way we watch TV by letting us pick and choose individual cable channels. The closest we ever got to Apple’s dream of disrupting cable was a timed exclusive with HBO.
The problem is that Apple isn’t just being a diva. The company is built on the idea of closed architecture, where it tightly controls everything from the design of the device to every line of code on it, and you can only play in its walled garden if you abide by its rules. Apple is so dedicated to this idea that when they cut their headphone jack from the iPhone 7, their first argument was that their philosophy of closed architecture made them innovators.
Apple isn’t going anywhere. iPhones and their accessories are selling briskly and they’ve got enormous cash reserves they’ve invested long-term to keep the company going. And Apple is exploring unusual new areas that are likely to pay off. But Apple has also been here before, where it innovated and opened up new markets and then struggled as competitors out-innovated and outpriced them. Apple needs to learn, quickly, how to reconcile its philosophy with products other than smartphones, or it may find itself left behind.