For Apple, 2019 is already shaping up to be a year marked by change.
Following the company’s announcement in November that it would no longer break out iPhone unit sales in earnings reports, the firm is making several key leadership changes as it prioritizes other emerging product segments like digital services, artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles, which The Wall Street Journal outlined in a report on Monday. The changes are likely part of an ongoing effort by Apple to reduce its reliance on the iPhone as it grapples with plummeting smartphone sales.
Here’s a look at some of the key hires and leadership shifts Apple has made in recent months, which impact various branches of the company from retail to artificial intelligence, battery development and self-driving cars.
Doug Field returns to Apple to work on the company’s self-driving car efforts
Field rejoined Apple last August to work on Apple’s self-driving car program, Project Titan, which tech blogger John Gruber and Reuters first reported at the time. Field spent five years at Tesla before returning to Apple, where he served as the company’s senior vice president of engineering according to his LinkedIn page. During his prior tenure at Apple, Field was a vice president of hardware engineering on the Mac team.
In his current role, Field oversees the day-to-day responsibilities of the 1,400 people working on Apple’s autonomous vehicle project, according to The Wall Street Journal. Longtime senior Apple executive Bob Mansfield is said to be leading Apple’s self-driving car project.
Exactly what will come of Project Titan remains uncertain. When speaking with Bloomberg in 2017, Cook suggested that the company was focusing its efforts on software for self-driving cars rather than producing vehicles, calling it “the mother of all AI projects.”
Apple hires former Samsung battery executive Soonho Ahn to serve as Global Head of Battery Development
Apple hired Ahn from Samsung SDI, the battery affiliate of the South Korean electronics giant, in December. Bloomberg first reported the hire.
Ahn’s LinkedIn profile suggests he worked on batteries for next-generation devices, although his precise duties at Apple are unclear. The hire could be part of an effort by Apple to reduce its reliance on Samsung for components by putting resources toward in-house talent. Apple began working with LG as a secondary supplier for the OLED screens last year in a move to mitigate its dependence on Samsung, Apple’s biggest smartphone rival, according to Bloomberg.
It appears to be part of a broader move by Apple to produce its own components, as the outlet also reported that the iPhone maker plans to produce its own chips for Mac computers starting sometime around 2020.
Apple cuts 200 people from self-driving car team
Apple is said to have cut 200 employees from its Project Titan team as part of a restructuring resulting from new leadership under former Tesla executive Doug Field, CNBC reported last month. In a statement to CNBC, Apple provided the following comment regarding the layoffs:
“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.”
Apple hasn’t said much publicly about its plans regarding autonomous driving, but in 2015 Apple’s Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams referred to the car as “the ultimate mobile device” when speaking at Recode’s Code Conference.
Deirdre O’Brien appointed Senior Vice President of Retail + People following Angela Ahrendts departure
Earlier this month, Apple announced that 30-year company veteran Deirdre O’Brien would succeed Angela Ahrendts as the company’s retail chief. Before taking on the responsibility of overseeing Apple’s 70,000 retail employees in more than 500 stores across the world, O’Brien led Apple’s human resources division. O’Brien will be tasked with completing the store remodelings that Ahrendts started as well as finding new ways to showcase Apple’s services in stores, according to The Wall Street Journal. One such project could involve installing televisions in stores to promote the company’s original shows, the report says.
iPhone marketing veteran Frank Casanova appointed to lead marketing for augmented reality initiatives
Roughly a year and a half since apps powered by Apple’s ARKit augmented reality platform became available for the iPhone, Apple has designated a marketing head for its AR division. Frank Casanova, who has worked at Apple for about 30 years, was recently appointed as Senior Director of Worldwide Product Marketing for the company’s augmented reality efforts according to his LinkedIn profile, which Bloomberg first reported.
That Apple would assign such a senior marketing executive with nearly three decades of experience at the company to oversee augmented reality provides further evidence that Apple views AR as being a vital part of its business. Apple CEO Tim Cook has long been vocal about the potential of augmented reality, saying he believes the technology will make the smartphone “even more essential than it currently is” when speaking with CNBC.
The company is reportedly working on an augmented reality headset to be released in 2020 that would support some iPhone features, like messaging, phone calls, and video, according to Bloomberg. But the company’s current augmented reality offerings live on its iPhone and iPad devices through its ARKit platform, which provides developers with tools for creating AR-enabled apps for Apple’s mobile devices. It’s another sign that Apple is looking to software to fuel iPhone growth moving forward.
Former Otto CEO Sam Jadallah hired to lead Apple’s smart home efforts
Apple has tapped Jadallah, formerly the CEO of now-defunct smart lock startup Otto, to lead its smart home initiative, CNBC recently reported. Jadallah’s exact title is unclear, but his LinkedIn profile says he is “working on Home” at Apple as of this month. He spent 12 years at Microsoft earlier in his career as a corporate vice president.
Apple began its push into the home with the unveiling of its HomeKit platform in 2014. The company extended its presence in the home with the launch of HomePod in 2018, a high-end speaker with Siri built-in. Apple’s decision to hire Jadallah indicates smart home products remain a priority for the company as reports indicate it plans to push more deeply into new product areas digital subscription services.