Does the hugely updated CarPlay suggest an Apple car is still in the works?

Apple’s takeover of the entire dashboard is a taster of what’s to come

Mockup of the future of CarPlay
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple used its recent WWDC software event to show off a hugely updated version of the CarPlay vehicle infotainment system.

No longer contained to the central touchscreen, CarPlay can now, should manufacturers wish and allow, appear on every digital screen. This even includes the speedometer, head-up display and climate controls, which would all be powered by software running on the driver’s iPhone.

This got me thinking about Project Titan, Apple’s car initiative that has trundled along the long and winding road to reality for about seven years now, without us seeing a single glimpse of what the vehicle might actually look like.

The general consensus is that Apple originally set out to make its own car. It would be electric, autonomous (likely partially so at launch), and a clear bid to muscle in on Tesla’s dominance of the EV market. The narrative then shifted to where Apple was instead focused on an autonomous driving system that would be used by other manufacturers. An ‘Intel Inside’ situation, if you will.

Project Titan has ebbed and flowed over the years since, grown and shrunk as cash was invested then taken away, lead engineers came and went, executives made it a priority then shifted their attention to something else. Something more achievable.

My gut feeling is that Apple no longer wants to build a car for itself, in the way Tesla does – a strategy that eventually paid off for Elon Musk, but not without extended flirtation with bankruptcy. Apple might still want to design a car and have someone else assemble it, as Foxconn builds iPhones and Magna builds cars for BMW, Mercedes, Toyota and others. But this new version of CarPlay makes me think Apple is back to building automotive software for the benefit of others.

Apple CarPlay

(Image credit: Apple)

Despite its market-leading smartphone, tablet and laptop displays, Apple isn’t interested in building the hardware of an infotainment system – no matter how much I’m sure it would love to see a little Apple logo at the foot of the main display. It instead wants to introduce CarPlay to the blank canvas of someone else’s dashboard, loaded into the driver’s iPhone like a Trojan horse.

So too autonomous technology from Project Titan. Although obviously not running on an iPhone, I think this self-driving system will be offered up by Apple for other manufacturers to install in their vehicles, and will integrate tightly with the next generation of CarPlay.

Like how Polestar is all-in on Google’s Android Automotive (although will be adding CarPlay on top of that soon), car companies will first surrender their interior tech to Apple. After that, and proving it’s a success, they might be willing to hand over their ADAS driver assistance systems too.

Only then, by deeply embedding itself within the vehicles of others, Apple might eventually gain the knowledge, experience and confidence it needs to build a car of its own.

Alistair Charlton

Alistair is a freelance automotive and technology journalist. He has bylines on esteemed sites such as the BBC, Forbes, TechRadar, and of best of all, T3, where he covers topics ranging from classic cars and men's lifestyle, to smart home technology, phones, electric cars, autonomy, Swiss watches, and much more besides. He is an experienced journalist, writing news, features, interviews and product reviews. If that didn't make him busy enough, he is also the co-host of the AutoChat podcast.