The battle amongst Titans

Apple is supposedly working on self-driving cars. Reports state that the project, entitled Project Titan, currently has around 2000/2500 engineers, designers and product managers working on it. That’s the third giant to be in the self-driving battle, including Google and Tesla.

Tesla is creating the product and everything around it, including its hardware and software. It makes its own cars, it has retail stores and charging networks. It has been in the game for 10 years. Even though it’s been in the game for this long, it is still small compared to others. For comparison, Apple is 20x the size of Tesla. While Tesla is David, Google and Apple are Goliath.

Google’s strategy runs in its DNA. It is a software company. It is building the software for self-driving cars, and it is not worried too much about making cars. Google tried to partner with automakers to sell its system, but automakers think they can build their own software.

To keep testing its software, Google has bought its own fleet of cars. It is hard to imagine that they will keep buying and running their own fleet. That is just hard to scale. It will take at least 5 to 10 years for the software to get better than humans. Google will not be able to run their own fleet until then, without human drivers.

If Google doesn’t sell its software to automakers, it will need mobile operators to help drive it before its software is better than humans. But internet speeds are not even close for mobile operators to control the cars through the internet, and make it work in scale. In the end, Google will need to partner with manufacturers. It’s just a question of when it will happen. It might just be when it hits automakers’ wallets.

While Tesla is building the iPhone, Google is building the Android of self-driving cars.

Apple on the other side is a product-first company. So designers are leading the development of the product. Apparently, they won the argument against engineers and Apple’s car will not have human drivers. In order for that to happen, self-driving cars need to drive better than humans. Today, that’s not the case.

The best self-driving car system is still 1000x worse than the best humans, based on disengagement rates. And the best system is developed by Waymo, a Google division. It’s no surprise that Google leads the pack there.

Google leads in Machine Learning. Their personal assistant, Photos app and Email client have the best in-class ML features. The language that programmers use to develop ML algorithms, TensorFlow, was written by Google. TPUs, their processing units for Deep Learning, are the most powerful in the market.

HomePod flopped because Siri wasn’t good enough, even though its sound system was the best in its class. But Apple is still investing in the product and the development of Siri. But for cars, it might just take much longer and a lot more investment for it to become an “overnight success”. It is a much more expensive endeavor. Will Apple have enough courage and patience to stick to it or will be David victorious? Time will tell. If history is any indicator, the Titan will give up. But only time will tell.

PS: The title of this article is a play with the name of Apple’s project. David and Goliath are not Titans.