A month after news broke that Apple would be cutting 200 jobs from Project Titan, the company has now confirmed the layoffs to the California government.
Apple disclosed the layoffs in a letter to the California Employment Development Department, as reported by The San Francisco Chronicle. Tom Neumayr, Apple’s Senior Director of App Store, Apple Music, and Apple TV PR, confirmed to the Chronicle that the letter referred to the same layoffs that were reported last month.
The letter also detailed the specific areas in which the layoffs will be occurring: 38 engineering program managers, 33 hardware engineers, 31 product design engineers, and 22 software engineers. According to the filing, the layoffs are expected to occur on April 16.
While the earlier report suggested that some employees would be reassigned to other divisions within Apple, the use of the term “layoff” suggests that this is not going to be the case for the majority of the 190 employees noted in the letter, although it’s entirely possible that the matter is simply one of HR semantics — employees could be laid off and then “re-hired” into other divisions, rather than simply being transferred internally.
With Apple’s culture of secrecy, it’s not entirely clear what this means for Project Titan. The last time Apple cut a significant number of jobs from its autonomous car project was back in 2016, leading most to believe it had abandoned its ambitions to create an actual self-driving car, and would be choosing to focus on the autonomous software systems instead.
In the intervening years since, however, Apple clearly refocused its efforts again, with several new hires last year suggesting that an actual Apple Car was back on the table. This latest round of layoffs has been described as a simple restructuring rather than an indication of Apple changing its plans again. Project Titan is still estimated to include approximately 5,000 employees, and with Apple having brought new leadership on board last year, it’s not all the surprising that there’s going to be some streamlining of the project’s engineering teams. Apple’s Siri team has been undergoing similar changes following the appointment of a new Senior VP to head up Apple’s AI efforts in the form of Google veteran John Giannandrea.
In fact, as Apple continues to expand and refocus its machine-learning and AI efforts, there’s clearly a synergy that’s going to contribute to its autonomous car systems, and with the details of Project Titan still being a closely guarded secret, it’s unclear exactly which divisions within Apple are working on which pieces. The project itself is directly under the leadership of Bob Mansfield, an Apple veteran and former Senior VP of Technologies. Following the departure of Scott Forstall in 2012, Mansfield effectively cancelled his retirement to head up “Special Projects” directly under Apple CEO Tim Cook. After nine months as SVP of Technology, Mansfield was quietly shifted out of the core executive team, becoming a more shadowy figure at Apple, who was eventually tagged to head up Apple’s clandestine car project.
Since that time, Mansfield has remained almost entirely out of the spotlight, becoming more of a force behind Project Titan, overseeing all of Apple’s more recent high-profile hires on the project, and likely drawing resources from other divisions within Apple. To this end, it seems a given that Giannandrea’s new Machine Learning and AI Strategy division is going to have a major stake in Project Titan, and the move toward a leaner engineering team on the automotive side may simply be a result of leveraging the skills and expertise in other areas of Apple.
At this point, analysts still agree that an Apple Car is likely coming by 2025, and Apple itself has been a bit more forthcoming lately at admitting to what it’s working on. Although the company remains behind competitors in the self-driving car space, it also has sufficient resources to close the gap pretty quickly, especially in an area where every company is breaking entirely new ground.