Jim Edwards / BusinessInsider.com
May 11, 2017

This story originally appeared on BusinessInsider.com

Apple is behaving in a really strange way regarding the mythical "Apple Car." After hiring 1,000 people to work on a secret program called Project Titan, which many believed to be the development of a car, the company laid off hundreds of them late last year. Observers interpreted that as one of Apple's periodic experiments: The company looked at what it would take to build a car and then decided not to.

And yet, Business Insider's Sam Shead recently discovered a secret Apple office in Berlin that — sources tell us — is devoted mostly to transportation. The engineers there were hired from car companies, and some are working on mapping projects.

Related: The 28 coolest tech companies in Berlin

So is Apple working on a car or not?

UBS analyst Steven Milunovich hosted a conversation with Horace Dediu (of Asymco.com) and Neil Cybart (of AboveAvalon.com) recently. He asked them what they thought was going on inside Project Titan. They raised four issues:

  • Transportation — "$5tn narrowly or $15tn broadly defined" — is a bigger market than either IT or healthcare, two industries that Apple is already deep into.
  • "Car ownership will plummet with autonomous driving."
  • And "the company is building expertise in core sensor, driving, and mapping technologies."
  • In sum, "Project Titan is likely to be a transportation platform — not a car but the entire experience," Milunovich wrote.

The $5 trillion size of the market is crucial. Apple can enter only massive markets if it wants to continue growing. Apple is so huge that those markets need to be in the multiple billions of dollars; otherwise there is no point. (The Apple Watch, for instance, is the biggest wearable tech device on earth and yet inside Apple's universe has barely moved the needle.)

The other key notion here is that Apple might be looking at "a transportation platform ... the entire experience."

Think about that.

If the cars of the future are driverless, what will we do inside them as they ferry us around? We will need entertainment, communications, and work-productivity apps to keep us occupied. Apple already does those on its other devices. The car will need navigation information, Wi-Fi, broadband connectivity, and probably its own operating system. Apple already does those, too.

Related: New York will allow tech giants and automakers to test self-driving cars

Put that together with one other piece of gossip coming out of the Apple archipelago: that Apple is developing a smart speaker product with a screen that people can use in their home. Apple already does that — it's called the iPad, and it has Siri. If there is a new opportunity for a standalone product in the kitchen that you yell at while you are cooking, then Apple is already steps away. Apple Homekit might be the embryonic seed of that.

It would not be a huge reach to replicate the iPad/smart speaker/Homekit experience as a product that controls and operates your car and gives you a familiar iOS-like interface to communicate with.

Related: 7 gadgets and tech accessories that are perfect for the pool or beach

Look at the dashboard of a Tesla (above). A huge chunk of it is basically just a computer screen.

It is highly unlikely that Apple will let that new space go to waste.

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