Apple has announced that Dan Riccio, its SVP of Hardware Engineering, will be transitioning to a new role reporting to CEO Tim Cook. At the same time, its Vice President of Hardware Engineering, John Ternus, has been promoted to lead Apple’s hardware engineering across the company as a member of the executive team. Reading between the lines, the executive shuffle could mean that Apple’s rumored AR/VR headset could indeed be inching closer to shipping.

A powerful exec tasked with a single project

When I found out about the news this morning, my first instinct was the same as that of Apple pundit John Gruber of Daring Fireball — there must be more to this than Apple is letting. Indeed, the company’s own press release frames this as Riccio beginning “a new chapter at Apple.” But there’s more to this than meets the eye — Apple writes that Riccio’s new role will have him exclusively focused “on a new project”. Not new projects, but a new project.

To that end, Gruber agrees with me.

“This is not an easing-out-the-door of Riccio,” he says, adding that Riccio “really is taking over something big and new.” But Apple is horizontally integrated when it comes to management so it’d be unusual for the company to appoint a senior executive to work on a single project.

Asking around a bit

Hmm, I wonder what this mystery project could be.

I still don’t know which project Riccio is heading, but my guess is that it’s the headset, not Project Titan, simply because I’m certain the headset is closer. I think it’s a sign that the headset is ready to get real, and Apple wants someone as capable as Riccio to lead it with nothing else on his plate.

This is Gruber’s quick take, “after asking around a bit.”

I’m with Gruber: the only other major project that might warrant Riccio’s oversight would be the mythical Apple Car (Project Titan). However, an Apple-branded production vehicle is still a few years away and Riccio doesn’t feel like the right person to take over Apple’s automotive efforts.

There’s also the third possibility: Riccio might be joining the executive team and taking over a mystery project as part of his grooming process to potentially become Apple’s next CEO, thought that’s pure speculation on my part.