Liviu Tudoran's "Apple iMove" design studyEnlarge Photo
For the past couple of years, rumors about a potential Apple Car have garnered as much attention as any new product from an established automaker.
Which is impressive, because Apple never confirmed the existence of the car—often called "Project Titan" and thought to be an autonomous vehicle with an all-electric powertrain.
Whatever plans Apple may have had, though, appear to have been put on hold.
Apple is scaling back its automotive plans, and plans to focus only on developing software for self-driving cars rather than the cars themselves, according to Bloomberg.
This will give Apple the flexibility to partner with an existing carmaker, or continue trying to develop cars itself, anonymous sources close to the project told the news service.
That might put future autonomous cars among the few non-Apple products to use Apple software.
Liviu Tudoran'sEnlarge Photo
The change in direction was reportedly accompanied by significant staff cuts.
Of an estimated 1,000 members of the "Project Titan" team, "hundreds" were reportedly transferred to other Apple divisions—or laid off.
The remaining team members reportedly have until late 2017 to prove the feasibility of an autonomous-driving system, and generally make a case for the company to continue the project.
Apple's rethink of autonomous-car development is somewhat similar to that of Google, which has publicly tested self-driving cars for more than seven years.
The company has built prototype autonomous cars, but it has never shown much interest in manufacturing cars on a large scale for sale to consumers.
Google is now partnering with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), with initial plans to build a test fleet of 100 autonomous Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid plug-in hybrid minivans.
Google autonomous car conceptEnlarge Photo
While many analysts have predicted that tech companies like Apple and Google represent the future of the auto industry, the Apple Car was always a long shot.
Building a car is far more complex than manufacturing consumer electronics, or designing and distributing software.
The generally-thin profit margins of the auto industry may have also proved unattractive to Apple, which is accustomed to margins that regularly exceed 35 percent, notes a recent Navigant Research blog post.
On the other hand, Apple would have had to invest large amounts of cash to create manufacturing and distribution infrastructure, and to generally adapt itself to an industry it is completely unfamiliar with.
Ford Fusion Hybrid Autonomous VehicleEnlarge Photo
Even the reported plan to develop an autonomous-driving platform for use by other companies seems unlikely to succeed, Navigant suggests.
Carmakers are developing their own systems, as are several large "Tier One" suppliers, the research firm notes.
Apple's entry into the auto industry always faced great odds.
While the company may not be completely finished with cars, perhaps this latest development will serve as a reality check to those who considered the Apple Car a done deal from the beginning.