In 2016, Tim Cook pulled in Bob Mansfield, Apple's former Senior VP of hardware engineering and an old confidant of Steve Jobs out of retirement to lead the Apple Car project which had been given the codename - Titan. Mansfield was known to be a hard taskmaster and was also the man who hired people like Johny Srouji who basically leads Apple's devastating hardware technologies unit which has designed custom silicon from everything from the iPhone to the new Macs. Bloomberg now reports that Mansfield, this around is gone for good and his team have been handed over to John Giannandrea who is its head of AI. Mansfield who had retired earlier, this time around has supposedly retired for good. But under his leadership, the Apple Car project went from developing a car to developing an autonomous car platform. Apple's goals and ambitions were tempered down and made more pragmatic by the seasoned veteran.
Now under Giannandrea, the unit has moved logically as a part of Apple's machine learning and AI unit. Apple CEO Tim Cook has previously called the self-driving car project as "the mother of all AI projects". Giannandrea also comes from Google where he was the AI and Search chieftain which basically pioneered the idea of self-driving cars culminating in Waymo.
The day to day leadership of the Apple car project remains under Doug Field who now reports to Giannandrea. He used to report into Mansfield with over 5,000 people working on the project, so perceptibly nothing much has changed, but a lot could change as self-driving is a more AI-infused topic than just shipping hardware which was an expertise of Mansfield.
Giannandrea isn't just the Siri boss, but it could be said his work touches upon everything Apple does. Be it on-device machine learning in its iOS and macOS platforms, Siri, computational audio and photography that products like the iPhone or HomePods or AirPods spinout. A lot of his input goes into what the Apple Silicon team does. Presumably, he could provide the same team invaluable insight for developing something of its own for its autonomous platform. Giannandrea has a wide-ranging role and that's why Cook was able to pull him out of the coveted role of Google's head of search and AI.
Giannandrea just didn't become the boss for Search at Google -- yeah the search company -- by chance. He replaced the legendary Amit Singhal who had rewritten parts of the original PageRank algorithm that Larry and Sergey had launched the company with. Giannandrea had co-founded Tellme networks and MetaWeb technologies, before that he was also the chief technologist at Netscape in the 90s. He was the one at Google who unified AI and search, something that is bearing fruit these days.
It is just not symbolism that Giannandrea has got the job. He was perhaps the most obvious choice for it from the get-go, but Apple's notorious culture and his rather newness in the company perhaps were deterrents. It perhaps needed the Midas touch of a mythical figure like Mansfield from within the company. But now is the right time to pass on the baton.