How Apple’s secret Exploratory Design Group makes magic happen

How Apple’s secret Exploratory Design Group makes magic happen


The Exploratory Design Group works at Tantau 9, this building on the Apple campus.
The Exploratory Design Group works at Tantau 9 on the Apple campus.
Photo: D. Griffin Jones/Cult of Mac

Few outside of Apple have ever heard of the company’s secretive Exploratory Design Group. However, the team includes many of Apple’s brightest minds — and is developing some of its most innovative products.

Despite the secrecy, the XDG made headlines recently when its project to add blood glucose monitoring to Apple Watch leaked out. Now more details on the group and its moonshot projects have come to light.

A glimpse inside the top-secret group working on Apple’s moonshot projects

There are many groups within Apple developing secret projects. One works on the much-rumored AV/VR headset. There’s another for the long-rumored Apple car.

But rather than working on bringing products to market, the Exploratory Design Group is “instructed to work on projects until they can determine whether or not an idea is feasible,” according to Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman, who detailed the group’s operations in his Power On newsletter.

There are hundreds of people in the XDG, which makes it smaller than the groups designing the Apple car and VR headset. Employees on one project are not allowed to discuss their work with those on other projects.

The group — which functions like a startup inside Apple — operates within the company’s Hardware Technologies group, Gurman wrote. It’s led by Johny Srouji, Apple’s senior vice president of hardware technologies, and works out of Tantau 9, a building just down the street from Apple Park.

The group’s accomplishments include work on the cutting-edge chip and battery technologies that make iPhones, iPads and Macs among the most powerful and efficient devices in the world, according to Gurman.

Glucose monitoring, AI and advanced displays

The glucose monitoring effort is supposedly the largest in the group, but it’s not the only project. “XDG is working on next-generation display technology, artificial intelligence and features for AR/VR headsets that help people with eye diseases,” wrote Gurman.

Apple gives the group “vast financial resources and headroom to explore countless ideas,” the report continues.

XDG was led by Apple engineering fellow Bill Athas until his death at the end of 2022. “The team is now run on a day-to-day basis by a number of Athas lieutenants, including top Apple engineers and scientists Jeff Koller, Dave Simon, Heather Sullens, Bryan Raines and Jared Zerbe. Koller, Simon and Raines are involved in the glucose project, while Sullens and Zerbe manage other groups within the larger team,” wrote Gurman.


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