Car Design Research Director Sam Livingstone posits on what we can expect from Apple’s entry into the automotive world
We travel to Korea, to Germany, to the US, to Japan, to Sweden, to France, to Italy. Everywhere we go, after the meeting, the chit-chat and a little pause, they look us straight in the eye and ask: “So; what do you know about the Apple car?”
The whole automotive industry is collectively holding its breath for Apple to launch its car. Everyone is expecting it to knock the wind out of their sails, and many of companies are expecting it may knock more than that out of them…
We don’t know the exact details of what the Apple car will be. But then there’s got to be a few things that we can be pretty sure of. And if the industry is as worried as it seems (and it should be), then maybe it will see the attributes listed below as the new high water mark rather than kidding itself that tomorrow will be much like today.
The Apple car will be part of a dedicated Apple ecosystem; an extension of the existing Apple infrastructure – but scaled up and with new layers. One of these new layers will be real-time-geographic – taking sat-nav to a level of near ‘4th dimension’ by coalescing journey, location and environmental data with driver’s and passenger’s needs, wants and opportunities – and specific car data too. A car that knows more than the best chauffeur sitting next to the best personal assistant sitting next to the best tour guide. Except that’s just the bit we can be sure of. Beyond this we expect some form of serendipitous transportation that the Apple car ecosystem shall enable: If reading a map was like making a landline call and sat-nav was like using a pre-Smart phone, so the way that Apple car takes person to place will be just like using an iPhone 6S.
The Apple car will look like a fairly normal type of car (from a distance anyway); a ‘car’ car, not a funny type of vehicle like Google’s car. It will have four wheels, be 4.2-4.7m long, and it will be pretty sober by design. It won’t have so much detailing; it will be a calm design with little pandering to fashion or fad. It will clearly not be a normal car; it won’t ‘do a Tesla’. But it won’t be a dynamic looking new-age car like the BMW i3. Nor will it be just a box with rounded corners in an “oh my god it’s been designed by an architect who doesn’t understand surfaces” way. It’ll be a well-resolved design – the form will have benefitted from a few months of clay modeling love. It’ll likely have some rather nice finishes – connecting to some of its innovative materiality – and a few clever, discrete details (gesture will have a role to play in opening the doors, surely?). It will also likely respond to the driver’s approach through light too.
It will seat four, maybe five people. It will be a social passenger space, not a driver’s cockpit space. It will be comfortable; the seat fabric will be far higher quality and far more expensive than normal – automotive color and trim designers post-Apple car will have far more rope to swing.
The interface inside will both be a game changer for the “but you can’t do that” car industry and the most familiarly ‘Apple like’ bit of the Apple car. But it won’t just be an iPad surrounded by car stuff. The whole interior will stem from – and usefully relate and work with – the central interface hub. We’d wager there’ll be fewer screens than in many existing cars as Apple will understand how the touch-screen for a car is not the best interface for most of its functions. Passengers (and when it later goes fully autonomous, drivers too) can browse their iPhones and iPads after all. Real buttons and knobs and dials will co-exist with gesture-controlled interfaces and light based displays. Dedicated sounds and Siri will play their parts in this properly human centric user experience.
And somewhere it will be a bit rubbish too. It will be the first Apple car not the last one, so it won’t be able to totally win the car design game out-of-the-box. Version 2.0 might. Version 1.0 will have some ‘oh-boy’, eye-rolling aspect to it. But it won’t matter. Because with that brand, having that interface and being part of the Apple eco-system, it will be a killer design that foretells of subsequent even more potent killer designs that suck up the industry from the upper-middle downward. You know it’s true.