Normally, talent goes to Apple.
But as Apple puts its automotive plans—code-named Project Titan—into gear, it’s apparently willing to do what it takes to get the necessary talent on board.
The Ottawa Citizen reported in January that Apple had leased office space in Ottawa across the street from QNX Software Systems, maker of operating system software that Research In Motion (now BlackBerry) purchased in 2009 and that today is in more than 50 million vehicles.
Now, Bloomberg reports, Apple has hired QNX founder and former CEO Dan Dodge—a man who, after 34 years with QNX, threw himself a party and officially retired in 2015.
“[Dodge] is part of a team headed by Bob Mansfield, who, since taking over leadership of [Apple’s] cars initiative … has heralded a shift in strategy, according to a person familiar with the plan,” stated the July 28 report.
Apple isn’t abandoning its plans to design its own vehicle—leaving open the possibility of its partnering with an established automaker, with BMW being rumored—but its new priority is “the development of an autonomous driving system,” according to Bloomberg.
“There’s no doubt that autonomous vehicles are the future,” Ezra Gottheil, a principal analyst with research firm Technology Business Research, told eWEEK.
“I know that Apple has been investing in automotive hardware design and manufacturing design, but I still think Apple’s ultimate business model will be partnerships with vehicle manufacturers,” Gottheil added. “There’s no reason for them not to go head-to-head with Google and Tesla and probably Microsoft and others for what will be a very big and important business.”
It’s been rumored for some time that Apple is working on a self-driving car that will compete with Tesla. A source told Business Insider in early 2015 that Tesla employees were “jumping ship” to work on an Apple vehicle development project that was “too exciting to pass up.”
Digital Trends reported July 25 that Apple’s automotive team has grown from 600 to 1,800 people. It includes Doug Betts, who last year left his role as head of quality control at the Chrysler Group to join Apple; Paul Furgale, an autonomous vehicle researcher who the Wall Street Journal reported last July was “recruiting other robotics and machine vision experts to work on a confidential project”; and, as mentioned above, Mansfield, a former Apple hardware engineer who retired in 2012.
Also according to the Bloomberg report, Mansfield will report to Apple CEO Tim Cook and oversee three teams: software, lead by John Wright; sensors, led by Benjamin Lyon; and hardware, led by D.J. Novotny.
Dodge will be part of Wright’s group.
Apple’s car plans are expected to be part of a strategy to keep profits rising, as smartphone saturation slows iPhone sales. In April, for the first time in 13 years, Apple reported year-over-year revenue decline. On July 26, Apple announced third fiscal quarter revenue of $42.4 billion, down from $49.6 billion a year earlier, and iPhone sales down 15 percent, to a still-considerable 40.4 million units, compared with 47.5 million during the quarter a year earlier.
“We have an incredible lineup of products in our lineup,” Cook told investors on the earnings call, “and I’m very bullish about our long-term opportunity.”