Apple is far behind Google in the self-driving technology race, a source close to the Cupertino, California-based company said earlier this week. According to the insider, Apple's autonomous driving endeavors are currently comparable to the technology Google developed "three years ago" and the iPhone maker "is just trying to play catch up [sic]." The report adds more credence to the common belief that Alphabet's subsidiary Waymo — which was spun off from Google in late 2016 — is currently leading this emerging segment and has the most realistic chance of being the first company to commercialize autonomous vehicles in the near future.
It's dubious whether Apple will be able to catch up to Waymo and its other rivals anytime soon, with the company now reportedly downsizing its self-driving car team which originally sought to build its own cars but has later suffered layoffs under the leadership of Bob Mansfield who took over the tech giant's Special Projects unit in 2016. Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook recently said that the division is now working on "autonomous systems," clearly signaling that the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) dropped the idea of creating an entirely new vehicle, at least for the time being. A number of other tech companies like Tesla and Uber are also pursuing this technology, though the majority of them are partnering with traditional automakers in order to do so, Waymo included. The Mountain View, California-based firm recently even sued Uber for alleged trade secret theft, accusing the ride-hailing service provider of stealing its LiDAR design and implementing it into its own cars. While it's currently unclear how that legal battle will end, Waymo seems positioned to continue leading the self-driving segment for the foreseeable future, with its offerings already being extensively tested across the United States in a wide variety of conditions.
As for Apple, the company is now said to be developing an autonomous driving solution designed for ride-sharing, though it still isn't planning on competing with the likes of Lyft and Uber for the time being. Instead, the firm is understood to be pursuing new partnerships which it hopes will help it advance its efforts in this segment and create a sustainable business in the coming years. The company already holds a seat on the board of Didi Chuxing, a Chinese ride-hailing service provider which bought out the local division of Uber last summer and has received a $1 billion investment from Apple shortly before that.