Apple Car Rumors: Release Date, Project Details and More

The road to a self-driving Apple Car has been full of twist and turns, since rumors first began swirling about the project more than a year ago. There are surely even more bumps in the road ahead — and that's before Apple has even confirmed that it's working on such a project, let alone if we'll even ever see an Apple-built car.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

(Image credit: Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com)

But the rumblings about Apple's automotive plans continue. So you can keep up-to-date on the latest developments in the ongoing saga of the still-mythical Apple Car, here's a look at all the latest rumors, along with a brief recap of all the noteworthy developments along the way.

The Latest (Updated Dec. 6)

Despite a September New York Times report that Apple has laid off dozens of employees as it closed down parts of the self-driving car project, the company still seems to be devoting some effort on the automotive side of things. Apple has reportedly told the people working on the project to figure out the feasibility of self-driving cars as well as a final direction by late 2017.  

MORE: Is the Apple Car Dead or Just Stalled?

Meanwhile, Apple continues to signal an interest in self-driving cars. The latest sign: A letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in which the company confirms that it's "excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation."

How We Got Here

The notion that Apple planned to build its own self-driving car really gained momentum after a Sept. 2015 report in the Wall Street Journal claimed that Apple was tripling the staff working on an automotive effort dubbed Project Titan. The Journal wrote at the time that Apple hoped to have a car ready by 2019.

Since that report, though, it appears Titan has hit its share of false starts, notably with lining up manufacturing partners. Earlier this year, for instance, both Daimler and BMW ended talks with Apple, according to a report in German business daily Handelsblatt. The two car makers apparently ended talks after disagreements with Apple over who would lead the project and which company would own data affiliated with Apple's car. There's no word if Apple's made any further progress on lining up an auto maker to help assemble any vehicle designed by Cupertino.

Based on reports, a lot of the progress Apple seems to have made with its automotive efforts have come on the software front. Apple won a patent in May that outlines various systems for controlling a vehicle using your iPhone. Apple's system would allow you to not only unlock and start your car with your handset, but also have your vehicle automatically adjust the seat and entertainment settings to your liking the second you sit down.

Bloomberg, which reported on Apple's internal 2017 deadline for settling on the feasibility scope of its automotive efforts, notes that the people still working on Project Titan are working on an underlying platform that car makers could use, with the project involving autonomous programs, vision sensors and various simulators.

Project Titan found itself without a leader at the start of this year, when the Wall Street Journal reported that the executive overseeing the effort had left Apple for personal reasons unrelated to the project. Apple has since turned to long-time executive Bob Mansfield to take charge of its automotive efforts. The move meant a return to Apple for Mansfield, who retired in 2013 after rising through the ranks to oversee all hardware coming out of Cupertno, and signals that whatever Apple is working on with this project, it's more than a hobby for the company.

What Apple's Rivals Are Doing

While Apple tries to figure out a way forward for Project Titan, other tech and automotive players are making their own moves with self-driving cars. Google is far along in its self-driving car project, though its efforts appear to be focused on the software powering the car and not the vehicle itself.

As for traditional car makers, Ford announced this summer that it will deliver fully autonomous ride-sharing vehicles by 2021. Volvo is working with Uber to test out self-driving cars in Pittsburgh geared toward the ride-sharing service.

Starting in December 2016, Tesla will rollout version 2.0 of its Autopilot feature which offers automated, highway driving, lane changing, self-parking and more thanks to an upgraded factory-installed sensor cluster.

What We're Likely to See

Much of the progress Apple has made on the automotive front seems tied into its existing ecosystem of products — the theoretical ability to control the car from an iPhone, for example. And Apple's own letter to the NHTSA (available here as a downloadable PDF) talks up the company's efforts in machine learning across Apple's product line, not just cars.

It's easy to see why Apple would be interested in expanding into the automotive world. Smartphone sales — which now make up the largest slice piece of Apple's revenue pie -- are slowing, and the Apple Watch has yet to make the splash that the iPhone and iPad did when they were introduced. Apple needs another hit, and working its way into your car seems like the best way to do that.