One of the most exciting things unveiled at WWDC last week was the next generation of CarPlay.

Slotted neatly within the iOS 16 segment, Apple’s latest version of its in-car entertainment software was, arguably, the most comprehensive overhaul of everything featured during the keynote.

We won’t see it until next year, and you’ll need a compatible car (which isn’t available yet, either), but I think the new CarPlay might hint at a far bigger play by Apple when it comes to automotive.

Project Titan

In 2014, Apple CEO Tim Cook allegedly approved ‘Project Titan’, a new project that was placed under the watchful eye of Steve Zadesky, a former Ford engineer. Although never officially confirmed, the press quickly latched onto the rumour that Project Titan was linked to some form of autonomous electric car product being worked on by Apple.

Zadesky – like so many other reported Project Titan leaders – is no longer with Apple, and there have been countless reports of personnel changes relating to the project since its inception.

Whatever Project Titan is, it’s clearly very challenging.

In 2016, Apple resurrected the career of retried senior hardware engineering exec, Bob Mansfield. He was apparently tasked with taking over the Titan project and was joined by Dan Dodge, founder of QNX, which was BlackBerry’s automotive software division.

Later that year, The New York Times reported dozens of layoffs linked to Project Titan. The report suggested that this was a result of Apple “rethinking [its] strategy on self-driving cars” by shifting priorities to the software powering such vehicles, rather than developing their own vehicle.

Since then, there have been numerous reports of patent and regulatory filings, more lay-offs, and even an alleged accident involving an Apple self-driving car during road testing (it was a 1 MPH rear-ender, and no one was hurt, thankfully).

Hands up who wants to work in Apple’s car division?

Next-generation CarPlay

I have a theory about the next-generation CarPlay software that was unveiled at WWDC 2022. I think it’s the first indication of what Project Titan is all about. In fact, I think it might be Project Titan.

According to Apple, 98% of cars in the US are compatible with CarPlay. I’ve owned two vehicles that featured CarPlay and it’s not hard to see why it’s so popular; it always trumps the dreadful in-car entertainment systems that have plagued the driving experience for years.

Car manufacturers are dreadful at this stuff. Even the simplest tasks are seemingly made as unsatisfying as possible. Fancy saving a radio station? Get ready to hit the poorly-responsive touchscreen 26 times with your finger. Want to get somewhere? Prepare yourself for a frustrating journey of dead ends and confusing terminology if you want to start by entering the postcode.

CarPlay solves all of these problems, immediately, just by connecting your iPhone to the car. Within seconds, you have access to a typically Apple user experience. The only thing missing was full control over all of the car’s particulars – until now.

Apple has been working with automakers to create a far more comprehensive version of CarPlay. When launched – and providing you have a compatible car – you’ll be able to control pretty much every aspect of your vehicle without ever exiting CarPlay. Radio stations, heater controls, and even the instrument cluster will soon be capable of sitting within Apple’s car platform.

We only saw a glimpse of the new CarPlay last week, but it was enough to get me excited. Admittedly, I’ve never sat in a car with quite so many screens like the one shown in Apple’s preview imagery, but that’s beside the point; the more control your iPhone can have over your car, the more pleasurable the in-car experience is likely to be.

What if this is it?

None of us knows what Project Titan is all about. Clearly, it relates to Apple’s ambitions within the automotive industry, but those aspirations have been debated for over eight years now.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. As Tesla has proved, developing a brand-new car platform is incredibly hard. The likes of Ford, BMW, and General Motors have many decades of development, testing, and iteration behind them. Joining the fray now and during such a pivotal evolution of the motorcar would be – if you’ll excuse the term – courageous. Or, perhaps, stupid.

I’ve never been convinced that Apple is developing its own car. A bit like the fabled TV project, it just doesn’t make sense. Margins in automotive are low, regulatory pressures are immense, and the margin for error is rather different to what Apple is currently familiar with. After all, a MacBook Pro isn’t capable of inadvertently running over a small child if part of its kernel crashes.

What if this next generation of Apple CarPlay is Project Titan, just in its earliest form?

What I’d like to see

I really like the look of the new CarPlay. Providing Apple hasn’t dented any of the current usability with the deeper integration and countless new user interface elements, I think we’re onto a very good thing indeed.

I’m not bothered at all about an Apple-branded vehicle. In fact, I can’t think of anything worse. It’ll be expensive. It’ll place design before function in far too many areas. It’ll have at least one feature that makes it a laughing stock among the aficionados of competing brands. It’ll encounter numerous regulatory and safety issues through no fault of its own.

Don’t get me wrong – it would be a content creator’s dream, but would I own one? No thanks.

If, however, Apple continues to partner closely with automakers who have been in this game for decades, and simply take the reins when it comes to the in-car entertainment experience, I am totally on board with that.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments section!