Global smartphone growth stalled in Q4, up just 1.2% for the full year: Gartner

Gartner’s smartphone marketshare data for the just gone holiday quarter highlights the challenge for device makers going into the world’s biggest mobile trade show which kicks off in Barcelona next week: The analyst’s data shows global smartphone sales stalled in Q4 2018, with growth of just 0.1 per cent over 2017’s holiday quarter, and 408.4 million units shipped.

tl;dr: high end handset buyers decided not to bother upgrading their shiny slabs of touch-sensitive glass.

Gartner says Apple recorded its worst quarterly decline (11.8 per cent) since Q1 2016, though the iPhone maker retained its second place position with 15.8 per cent marketshare behind market leader Samsung (17.3 per cent). Last month the company warned investors to expect reduced revenue for its fiscal Q1 — and went on to report iPhone sales down 15 per cent year over year.

The South Korean mobile maker also lost share year over year (declining around 5 per cent), with Gartner noting that high end devices such as the Galaxy S9, S9+ and Note9 struggled to drive growth, even as Chinese rivals ate into its mid-tier share.

Huawei was one of the Android rivals causing a headache for Samsung. It bucked the declining share trend of major vendors to close the gap on Apple from its third placed slot — selling more than 60 million smartphones in the holiday quarter and expanding its share from 10.8 per cent in Q4 2017 to 14.8 per cent.

Gartner has dubbed 2018 “the year of Huawei”, saying it achieved the top growth of the top five global smartphone vendors and grew throughout the year.

This growth was not just in Huawei “strongholds” of China and Europe but also in Asia/Pacific, Latin America and the Middle East, via continued investment in those regions, the analyst noted. While its expanded mid-tier Honor series helped the company exploit growth opportunities in the second half of the year “especially in emerging markets”.

By contrast Apple’s double-digit decline made it the worst performer of the holiday quarter among the top five global smartphone vendors, with Gartner saying iPhone demand weakened in most regions, except North America and mature Asia/Pacific.

It said iPhone sales declined most in Greater China, where it found Apple’s market share dropped to 8.8 percent in Q4 (down from 14.6 percent in the corresponding quarter of 2017). For 2018 as a whole iPhone sales were down 2.7 percent, to just over 209 million units, it added.

“Apple has to deal not only with buyers delaying upgrades as they wait for more innovative smartphones. It also continues to face compelling high-price and midprice smartphone alternatives from Chinese vendors. Both these challenges limit Apple’s unit sales growth prospects,” said Gartner’s Anshul Gupta, senior research director, in a statement.

“Demand for entry-level and midprice smartphones remained strong across markets, but demand for high-end smartphones continued to slow in the fourth quarter of 2018. Slowing incremental innovation at the high end, coupled with price increases, deterred replacement decisions for high-end smartphones,” he added.

Further down the smartphone leaderboard, Chinese OEM, Oppo, grew its global smartphone market share in Q4 to bump Chinese upstart, Xiaomi, and bag fourth place — taking 7.7 per cent vs Xiaomi’s 6.8 per cent for the holiday quarter.

The latter had a generally flat Q4, with just a slight decline in units shipped, according to Gartner’s data — underlining Xiaomi’s motivations for teasing a dual folding smartphone.

Because, well, with eye-catching innovation stalled among the usual suspects (who’re nontheless raising high end handset prices), there’s at least an opportunity for buccaneering underdogs to smash through, grab attention and poach bored consumers.

Or that’s the theory. Consumer interest in ‘foldables’ very much remains to be tested.

In 2018 as a whole, the analyst says global sales of smartphones to end users grew by 1.2 percent year over year, with 1.6 billion units shipped.

The worst declines of the year were in North America, mature Asia/Pacific and Greater China (6.8 percent, 3.4 percent and 3.0 percent, respectively), it added.

“In mature markets, demand for smartphones largely relies on the appeal of flagship smartphones from the top three brands — Samsung, Apple and Huawei — and two of them recorded declines in 2018,” noted Gupta.

Overall, smartphone market leader Samsung took 19.0 percent marketshare in 2018, down from 20.9 per cent in 2017; second placed Apple took 13.4 per cent (down from 14.0 per cent in 2017); third placed Huawei took 13.0 per cent (up from 9.8 per cent the year before); while Xiaomi, in fourth, took a 7.9 per cent share (up from 5.8 per cent); and Oppo came in fifth with 7.6 per cent (up from 7.3 per cent).

Xiaomi’s Mi 9 includes a triple lens rear camera and wireless charging

Mobile World Congress, the mobile industry’s annual shindig, is next week but Xiaomi can’t wait reveal its newest top-end phone. The Chinese company instead picked today to unveil the Mi 9.

Once again Xiaomi’s design ethic closely resembles Apple’s iPhone with a minimal bezel and notch-like front-facing camera but Xiaomi has gone hard on photography with a triple lens camera.

There are two models available with the regular Mi 9 priced from RMB 2999, or $445, and the Mi 9SE priced from RMB 1999, or $300. A premium model, the Transparent Edition, includes beefed-up specs for RMB 2299, $342.

The phone runs on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 chipset and the headline feature, or at least the part that Xiaomi is shouting about most, is the triple lens camera array the back of the device. That trio combines a 48-megapixel main camera with a 16-megapixel ultra-wide-angle camera and a 12-megapixel telephoto camera, Xiaomi said. The benefits of that lineup is improved wide-angle shots, better quality close-up photography and performance in low-light conditions, according to the company.

The premium Mi 9 model, the Transparent Edition, sports 12GB of RAM and 256GB internal storage and features a transparent back cover

There’s also a ‘supermoon’ mode for taking shots of the moon and presumably other night sky images, while Xiaomi touts an improved night mode and, on the video side, 960fps capture and advanced motion tracking. We haven’t had the chance to test these out, which is worth noting at this point.

Xiaomi also talked up the battery features of the Mi 9, which ships with an impressive 3300mAh battery that features wireless charging support and Qi EPP certification meaning it will work with third-party charging mats. Xiaomi claims that the Mi 9 can charge to 70 percent in 30 minutes, and reach 100 percent in an hour using 27W wired charging.

Alongside the Mi 9, it unveiled its third three wireless charging products — a charging pad (RMB 99, $15), a car charger (RMB 169, $25) and a 10,000mAh wireless power bank (RMB 149, $22.)

Xiaomi, as ever, offers a range of different options for customers as follows:

  • Mi 9 with 6GB and 128GB for RMB 2999, $445
  • Mi 9 with 8GB and 128GB for RMB 3299, $490
  • Mi 9 with 12GB and 256GB for RMB 3999, $595
  • Mi 9SE with 6GB and 128GB for RMB 1999, $300
  • Mi 9SE with 6GB and 128GB for RMB 2299, $342 (Transparent Edition)

Notably, the Mi 9 goes on sale February 26 — pre-orders open this evening — with the SE version arriving on March 1. As expected, the launch market is China but you can imagine that India — where Xiaomi is among the top players — and other global launches will follow.

Xiaomi said it plans to announce more products on Sunday, the eve of Mobile World Congress. It recently teased a foldable phone so it’ll be interesting to see if it will follow suit and join Samsung, which had its first foldable phone outed by a leak.

 

Apple is selling the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 in Germany again

Two older iPhone models are back on sale in Apple stores in Germany — but only with Qualcomm chips inside.

The iPhone maker was forced to pull the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 models from shelves in its online shop and physical stores in the country last month, after chipmaker Qualcomm posted security bonds to enforce a December court injunction it secured via patent litigation.

Apple told Reuters it had “no choice” but to stop using some Intel chips for handsets to be sold in Germany. “Qualcomm is attempting to use injunctions against our products to try to get Apple to succumb to their extortionist demands,” it said in a statement provided to the news agency.

Apple and Qualcomm have been embroiled in an increasingly bitter global legal battle around patents and licensing terms for several years.

The litigation follows Cupertino’s move away from using only Qualcomm’s chips in iPhones after, in 2016, Apple began sourcing modem chips from rival Intel — dropping Qualcomm chips entirely for last year’s iPhone models. Though still using some Qualcomm chips for older iPhone models, as it will now for iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 units headed to Germany.

For these handsets Apple is swapping out Intel modems that contain chips from Qorvo which are subject to the local patent litigation injunction. (The litigation relates to a patented smartphone power management technology.) 

Hence Apple’s Germany webstore is once again listing the two older iPhone models for sale…

Newer iPhones containing Intel chips remain on sale in Germany because they do not containing the same components subject to the patent injunction.

“Intel’s modem products are not involved in this lawsuit and are not subject to this or any other injunction,” Intel’s general counsel, Steven Rodgers, said in a statement to Reuters.

While Apple’s decision to restock its shelves with Qualcomm-only iPhone 7s and 8s represents a momentary victory for Qualcomm, a separate German court tossed another of its patent suits against Apple last month — dismissing it as groundless. (Qualcomm said it would appeal.)

The chipmaker has also been pursing patent litigation against Apple in China, and in December Apple appealed a preliminary injunction banning the import and sales of old iPhone models in the country.

At the same time, Qualcomm and Apple are both waiting the result of an antitrust trial brought against Qualcomm’s licensing terms in the U.S.

Two years ago the FTC filed charges against Qualcomm, accusing the chipmaker of operating a monopoly and forcing exclusivity from Apple while charging “excessive” licensing fees for standards-essential patents.

The case was heard last month and is pending a verdict or settlement.

Apple tells app developers to disclose or remove screen recording code

Apple is telling app developers to remove or properly disclose their use of analytics code that allows them to record how a user interacts with their iPhone apps — or face removal from the app store, TechCrunch can confirm.

In an email, an Apple spokesperson said: “Protecting user privacy is paramount in the Apple ecosystem. Our App Store Review Guidelines require that apps request explicit user consent and provide a clear visual indication when recording, logging, or otherwise making a record of user activity.”

“We have notified the developers that are in violation of these strict privacy terms and guidelines, and will take immediate action if necessary,” the spokesperson added.

It follows an investigation by TechCrunch that revealed major companies, like Expedia, Hollister and Hotels.com, were using a third-party analytics tool to record every tap and swipe inside the app. We found that none of the apps we tested asked the user for permission, and none of the companies said in their privacy policies that they were recording a user’s app activity.

Even though sensitive data is supposed to be masked, some data — like passport numbers and credit card numbers — was leaking.

Glassbox is a cross-platform analytics tool that specializes in session replay technology. It allows companies to integrate its screen recording technology into their apps to replay how a user interacts with the apps. Glassbox says it provides the technology, among many reasons, to help reduce app error rates. But the company “doesn’t enforce its customers” to mention that they use Glassbox’s screen recording tools in their privacy policies.

But Apple expressly forbids apps that covertly collect data without a user’s permission.

TechCrunch began hearing on Thursday that app developers had already been notified that their apps had fallen afoul of Apple’s rules. One app developer was told by Apple to remove code that recorded app activities, citing the company’s app store guidelines.

“Your app uses analytics software to collect and send user or device data to a third party without the user’s consent. Apps must request explicit user consent and provide a clear visual indication when recording, logging, or otherwise making a record of user activity,” Apple said in the email.

Apple gave the developer less than a day to remove the code and resubmit their app or the app would be removed from the app store, the email said.

When asked if Glassbox was aware of the app store removals, a spokesperson for Glassbox said that “the communication with Apple is through our customers.”

Glassbox is also available to Android app developers. Google did not immediately comment if it would also ban the screen recording code. Google Play also expressly prohibits apps from secretly collecting device usage. “Apps must not hide or cloak tracking behavior or attempt to mislead users about such functionality,” the developer rules state. We’ll update if and when we hear back.

It’s the latest privacy debacle that has forced Apple to wade in to protect its customers after apps were caught misbehaving.

Last week, TechCrunch reported that Apple banned Facebook’s “research” app that the social media giant paid teenagers to collect all of their data.

It followed another investigation by TechCrunch that revealed Facebook misused its Apple-issued enterprise developer certificate to build and provide apps for consumers outside Apple’s App Store. Apple temporarily revoked Facebook’s enterprise developer certificate, knocking all of the company’s internal iOS apps offline for close to a day.

Tesla has opened an Amazon store to spread its swag far and wide

Tesla has had a brisk merch business for years now, thanks to its fervent owner base and fans, who are enthusiastic supporters of the company and its CEO Elon Musk.

But until now, those Tesla-branded items — everything from water bottles and hats to jackets, chargers and once a surfboard — have been sold through the automaker’s own website.

Tesla has now expanded it merch ambitions and opened a store on Amazon. (A reader tipped off TechCrunch to the store; however, the story was first reported by Electrek). Tesla confirmed the store opened earlier this week. Update: The site is now down.

It should be noted that, for now, the store on Amazon isn’t as robust as the one on Tesla’s website. However, there are at least two items that can only be found on the Amazon page: an iPhone 8+ case and a Tesla iPhone  X folio case. No prices are listed for the items and they’re currently “unavailable.”

 

Tesla Amazon store

In fact, every item on the store is “unavailable.”

It’s not clear when these items will be back in stock or why they aren’t available now. Did the company sell out already? Has it simply failed to make the items available? So many questions.

Tesla merchandise, especially specialty items, do tend to sell out quickly. For instance, the Tesla branded surfboard priced at $1,500 sold out in a day. However, the mini die-cast Tesla models sold on the Amazon store appear to be in stock over at Tesla’s website. We’ll update the story when the mystery is solved.

WhatsApp adds support for Face ID/Touch ID biometric lock on iOS

WhatsApp users updating to the latest version of the messaging app on iOS will find a new setting lurking at the bottom of the ‘Privacy’ menu that adds support for Apple’s biometric authentication technologies.

WhatsApp users on iOS can now tap into Apple’s biometrics for an extra layer of security

Under the new setting, called ‘Screen Lock’, users of WhatsApp on iOS can tap through to another menu to add an additional layer of security by requiring either their facial biometric or a fingerprint to unlock the messaging app.

iPhone users are either offered the ability to ‘require Face ID’ or ‘require Touch ID’ depending on their handset hardware.

The change, in version 2.19.20 of the WhatsApp iOS app, is listed as: 

• You can now require Face ID or Touch ID to unlock WhatsApp. Tap “Settings” > “Account” > “Privacy” and enable Screen Lock.

While WhatsApp makes use of the respected Signal Protocol to protect users’ comms via end-to-end encryption, the best encryption in the world can’t offer any protection if a person gains possession of your unlocked device as they can just open the app and read everything in plain text.

So the lack of a native lock option in WhatsApp has been a rather big security oversight. But one the messaging giant has at least now rectified on iOS.

Albeit the setting is not enabled by default — and is a bit buried in the menus — so less security savvy users are unlikely to realize it’s there.

There’s also still no native option in WhatsApp to add any kind of passcode to the app. Which would offer a universal ‘extra security’ option that could work across Android and iOS. (Presumably WhatsApp’s parent Facebook isn’t a fan of the added ‘friction’ such a setting could bring.)

Although various third party apps can be downloaded and used to require a passcode before other apps can be opened, a native passcode option would increase accessibility and shrink potential security concerns about using third party downloads for what should really be a core function.

Apple has blocked Google from running internal iOS apps after certificate misuse

Apple has blocked Google from distributing its internal-only iOS apps on its corporate network after a TechCrunch investigation found the search giant abusing the certificates.

“We’re working with Apple to fix a temporary disruption to some of our corporate iOS apps, which we expect will be resolved soon,” said a Google spokesperson. A spokesperson for Apple said: “We are working together with Google to help them reinstate their enterprise certificates very quickly.”

TechCrunch reported Wednesday that Google was using an Apple-issued certificate that allows the company to create and build internal apps for its staff for one of its consumer-facing apps, called Screenwise Meter, in violation of Apple’s rules. The app was designed to collect an extensive amount of data from a person’s iPhone for research, but using the special certificate allowed the company to allow users to bypass Apple’s App Store. Google later apologized, and said that the app “should not have operated under Apple’s developer enterprise program — this was a mistake.”

It followed in the footsteps of Facebook, which we first reported earlier this week was also abusing its internal-only certificates for a research app — which the company used to pay teenagers to vacuum up their phone’s web activity.

It’s not immediately clear how damaging this will be for Google. Not only does it mean its Screenwise Meter app won’t work for iPhones, but also nor will any other app for which the search giant relies on the certificate.

According to The Verge, many internal Google apps have also stopped working. That means many early and pre-release versions of its consumer-facing apps, like Google Maps, Hangouts, Gmail and other employee-only apps, such as its transportation apps, are no longer functioning.

Facebook faced a similar rebuke after Apple stepped in. We reported that after Apple’s ban was handed down, many of Facebook’s pre-launch, test-only versions of Facebook and Instagram stopped working, as well as other employee-only apps for coordinating office collaboration, travel and seeing the company’s daily lunch schedule. Neither block affects apps that consumers download from Apple’s App Store.

Facebook has more than 35,000 employees. Google has more than 94,000 employees.

It’s not known when — or if — Apple will issue Google or Facebook new internal-only certificates, but they will almost certainly have newer, stricter rules attached.

Digital influencers and the dollars that follow them

Animated characters are as old as human storytelling itself, dating back thousands of years to cave drawings that depict animals in motion. It was really in the last century, however—a period bookended by the first animated short film in 1908 and Pixar’s success with computer animation with Toy Story from 1995 onwards—that animation leapt forward. Fundamentally, this period of great innovation sought to make it easier to create an animated story for an audience to passively consume in a curated medium, such as a feature-length film.

Our current century could be set for even greater advances in the art and science of bringing characters to life. Digital influencers—virtual or animated humans that live natively on social media—will be central to that undertaking. Digital influencers don’t merely represent the penetration of cartoon characters into yet another medium, much as they sprang from newspaper strips to TV and the multiplex. Rather, digital humans on social media represent the first instance in which fictional entities act in the same plane of communication as you and I—regular people—do. Imagine if stories about Mickey Mouse were told over a telephone or in personalized letters to fans. That’s the kind of jump we’re talking about.

Social media is a new storytelling medium, much as film was a century ago. As with film then, we have yet to transmit virtual characters to this new medium in a sticky way.

Which isn’t to say that there aren’t digital characters living their lives on social channels right now. The pioneers have arrived: Lil’ Miquela, Astro, Bermuda, and Shudu are prominent examples. But they have are still only notable for their novelty, not yet their ubiquity. They represent the output of old animation techniques applied to a new medium. This Techcrunch article did a great job describing the current digital influencer landscape.

So why haven’t animated characters taken off on social media platforms?  It’s largely an issue of scale—it’s expensive and time-consuming to create animated characters and to depict their adventures.  One 2017 estimate stated that a 60-90 second animation took about 6 weeks.  An episode of animated TV takes between 13 months to produce, typically with large teams in South Korea doing much of the animation legwork. That pace simply doesn’t work in a medium that calls for new original content multiple times a day.

Yet the technical piece of the puzzle is falling into place, which is primarily what I want to talk about today. Traditionally, virtual characters were created by a team of experts—not scalable—in the following way:

  • Create a 3D model
  • Texture the model and add additional materials
  • Rig the 3D model skeleton
  • Animate the 3D model
  • Introduce character into desired scene

 

Today, there are generally three different types of virtual avatar:  realistic high-resolution CGI avatars, stylized CGI avatars, and manipulated video avatars. Each has its strengths and pitfalls, and the fast-approaching world of scaled digital influencers will likely incorporate aspects of all three.

The digital influencers mentioned above are all high-resolution CGI avatars. It’s unsurprising that this tech has breathed life into the most prominent digital influencers so far—this type of avatar offers the most creative latitude and photorealism. You can create an original character and have her carry out varied activities.

The process for their creation borrows most from the old-school CGI pipeline described above, though accelerated through the use of tools like Daz3D for animation, Moka Studio for rigging, and Rokoko for motion capture. It’s old wine in new bottles. Naturally, it shares the same bottlenecks as the old-school CGI pipeline: creating characters in this way consumes a lot of time and expertise.

Though researchers like Ari Shapiro at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies are currently working on ways to automate the creation of high-resolution CGI avatars, that bottleneck remains for obstacle for digital influencers entering the mainstream.

Stylized CGI avatars, on the other hand, have entered the mainstream. If you have an iPhone or use Snapchat, chances are you have one. Apple, Samsung, Pinscreen, Loom.ai, Embody Digital, Genies, and Expressive.ai are just some of the companies playing in this space. These avatars, while likely to spread ubiquitously a la Bitmoji before them, are limited in scope.

While they extend the ability to create an animated character to anyone who uses an associated app, that creation and personalization is circumscribed: the avatar’s range is limited for the purposes of what we’re discussing in this article. It’s not so much a technology for creating new digital humans as it is a tool for injecting a visual shorthand for someone into the digital world. You’ll use it to embellish your Snapchat game, but storytellers will be unlikely to use these avatars to create a spiritual successor to Mickey Mouse and Buzz Lightyear (though they will be a big advertising / brand partnership opportunity nonetheless).

Video manipulation—you probably know it as deepfakes—is another piece of tech that is speeding virtual or fictional characters into the mainstream. As the name implies, however, it’s more about warping reality to create something new. Anyone who has seen Nicolas Cage’s striking features dropped onto Amy Adams’ body in a Superman film will understand what I’m talking about.

Open source packages like this one allow almost anyone to create a deepfake (with some technical knowhow—your grandma probably hasn’t replaced her time-honored Bingo sessions with some casual deepfaking). It’s principally used by hobbyists, though recently we’ve seen startups like Synthesia crop up with business use cases. You can use deepfake tech for mimicry, but we haven’t yet seen it used for creating original characters. It shares some of the democratizing aspects of stylized CGI avatars, and there are likely many creative applications for the tech that simply haven’t been realized yet.

While none of these technology stacks on their own currently enable digital humans at scale, when combined they may make up the wardrobe that takes us into Narnia. Video manipulation, for example, could be used to scale realistic high-res characters like Lil’ Miquela through accelerating the creation of new stories and tableaux for her to inhabit. Nearly all of the most famous animated characters have been stylized, and I wouldn’t bet against social media’s Snow White being stylized too. What is clear is that the technology to create digital influencers at scale is nearing a tipping point. When we hit that tipping point, these creations will transform entertainment and storytelling.

Apple disables group calling in FaceTime in response to eavesdropping bug

Apple has disabled the group calling feature within its FaceTime calling service while it works on a patch to fix a nasty bug that allows eavesdropping.

Apple’s status page shows that group calling via FaceTime is “temporarily unavailable” — that’s a stop-gap move while the company to deliver a more permanent fix to the problem this week. We were unable to set up a group call when we tried, having earlier been able to do and replicate the issue.

All being well, this fix means that users don’t need to completely disable FaceTime due to the bug, but it is understandable if some people are hesitant to switch it on again.

The vulnerability was unearthed on Monday and it is activated when a user initiates a group call but adds themselves as a participant, as we explained in our earlier post:

The bug relies on what appears to be a nasty logic screwup in FaceTime’s group call system. While we’re opting to not outline the steps here, the bug seems to trick the recipient’s phone into thinking a group call is already ongoing. A few quick taps, and FaceTime immediately trips over itself and inexplicably fires up the recipient’s microphone without them actually accepting the call.

Weirder yet: if the recipient presses the volume down button or the power button to try to silence or dismiss the call, their camera turns on as well. Though the recipient’s phone display continues showing the incoming call screen, their microphone/camera are streaming.

Apple told us and other media that it plans to issue a more permanent solution in the coming days.

“We’re aware of this issue and we have identified a fix that will be released in a software update later this week,” a spokesperson said.

It’s interesting to note that the group calling feature actually took longer than planned to arrive in iOS follow a hiccup. It was added then removed from the beta version of iOS 12 in August while it took time to roll out to all users. The feature was absent when iOS 12 shipped to all in September and, instead, it arrived with the launch of iOS 12.1 in October. Apple never provided a reason for the delay.

The bug is an embarrassing incident for Apple, which has long emphasized its focus on privacy as a business and within its products. That included a recent banner at CES which triumphantly proclaimed: “What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone.”

Apple cuts 200 staff from its Project Titan autonomous car division

Apple’s secretive efforts to develop a self-driving car — its so-called ‘Project Titan’ — have taken a hard turn in 2019 after it emerged that the iPhone-maker has reassigned 200 employees previously involved in its development.

That’s according to CNBC which, citing sources, reported that a portion of the 200 staff were moved to other projects inside Apple, while others — and it isn’t clear how many — were let go altogether. The news was enough to prompt Apple to respond with a confirmation that included a rare mention of its automotive ambitions.

“We have an incredibly talented team working on autonomous systems and associated technologies at Apple. As the team focuses their work on several key areas for 2019, some groups are being moved to projects in other parts of the company, where they will support machine learning and other initiatives, across all of Apple. We continue to believe there is a huge opportunity with autonomous systems, that Apple has unique capabilities to contribute, and that this is the most ambitious machine learning project ever,” a spokesperson said.

TechCrunch reached out to Apple for additional comment but, at the time of writing, the company had not responded.

CNBC reported that the layoffs had been expected and were seen as an imminent restructuring under Project Titan’s new leadership, long-time Apple veteran Bobs Mansfield and Doug Field, Apple’s former VP of Mac hardware engineering who rejoined from the company in October after a spell with Tesla.

Still, not a lot is known about the project. There have been sneak peaks — including a look at the unorthodox tech stack for the vehicle roof, which included a suite of sensors and autonomous hardware — while the company was said to have doubled its fleet as of last JanuaryCEO Tim Cook previously called Apple’s car push “the mother of all AI projects,” indicating that, despite the mystery, it is certainly taking up a huge amount of focus for the company.

This isn’t the first time Apple has restructured the project. Back in 2016, it was said to have abandoned the bold target of developing its own vehicle instead opting to develop vehicle smarts. Exactly what the strategy is now following Field’s appointment and this restructuring is not unclear.