By now, you’ve probably heard that Apple is aiming to have an electric car ready for shipment by 2019, but what they actually plan to create remains a mystery. Here’s a case for why car enthusiasts may actually have something to look forward to from the Silicon Valley tech giant and reasons for why this may not be the case.
1. A Look Back at Apple’s Past for a Glimpse Into the Future
The Apple Computer. The Mac. The Macbook. The iPod. The iPhone. The iPad. The Apple Watch. All of these iconic Apple products share something in common. None of them are the original in their industry, but all of them are intuitive.
The Apple Computer was not the first computer, but it changed how people approached computation at home. The Mac exaggerated these aspects and improved upon them, appealing to a specific, yet large demographic found throughout the United States. The iPhone wasn’t the first smartphone, and the iPad certainly was not the first tablet, but both were groundbreaking in their industries. Possibly the most influential product, the iPod changed the way that everyone listened to music. It fit 1,000 songs in your pocket. There were other MP3 players out there though. There were other phones and other computers and other laptops, but the people have chosen Apple time and time again. Why?
Some will attribute this to brand recognition, and that may very well be true today, but the brand recognition that Apple gets requires more than a good marketing department. It requires heritage, and that means transforming practical and recreational products into emotionally pleasing experiences beyond the experiences themselves. When you listen to your music on an iPod, you aren’t just listening to stereo audio. You select music based on genre or artist through a fluid user interface. The song is the same regardless of whether it’s played through an iPod or a cheap MP3 player, but there’s something to be said for arriving at that song without feeling as if you’ve worked for it.
While some Apple products have transformed and hardly accomplish what the product was originally meant to do, Apple usually does an exceptional job of starting off strong.
2. A Company Focused on User Experience Can Refresh the Industry
The new cars of today are not always as user-friendly as they can be. Infotainment systems can be a hodgepodge of commands and odd bits of information being thrown at you. The touchscreen may feel clunky. Maybe, it doesn’t have touch at all, but instead, a series of buttons that surround the screen with too many unique responsibilities for all the different functions.
Your steering wheel might have a small army of buttons on it that get in the way or never get used. Your dashboard may have a cluster of ambiguous lights, which in all reality, are actually meant to convey what could be the most crucial information to you about your vehicle. Syncing your phone to your car via Bluetooth might never truly work ever depending on the model car you have. Wouldn’t it be great if there was some execution that went along with these concepts?
Jaguar has created a new generation of automatic transmission cars with a dial in place of the mechanical stick to make the experience easier to the driver. It isn’t about separating the driver from the experience. It’s about properly utilizing critical space to make the life of the driver easier. Removing the stick makes room for practical things like climate control switches and more fun things, like a bright red engine start/stop button in the style of an F16. To be honest, the latter essentially defeats the purpose, but that’s what I’d use it for.
In reality though, Jaguar recognizes that most drivers of automatics use the shifter at the beginning and the end of every drive, while the controls around it are used more frequently. They’ve taken the approach of properly allocating space to a function depending on how often the driver interacts with that function, resulting in the transmission getting less space in the cabin. That’s where it starts.
Apple is a company that places heavy emphasis on the user experience, and isn’t that what drivers really want? No, Apple probably isn’t going to build the next F40/M3/911/GTR. The overwhelming majority of us don’t drive those cars though. The average Jalop comes home to a family that needs to be factored in and probably doesn’t wade through a pool of cash to get to the kitchen after a day in the office. Apple has created a huge market for the iPhone in the United States, a product that many an average Jalop might enjoy.
Through the bureaucracy of an automotive manufacturer, who cars are designed for becomes a mystery. Mechanical engineers design one thing to be efficient, but the space required doesn’t line up with the interior design. One person wants to cut corners to bring down price, and another wants to accent every little thing in leather and chrome to boost brand reputation.
These disagreements do get settled, but the compromise shows through varying quality throughout the parts of the product, the car. One has to ask oneself, are these cars truly being designed for the target audience? Or, are they being designed to half-heartedly appease different employees and executives who are part of the process from conceptualization to production? Most manufacturers cannot answer yes to that first question. Consider that Apple might be able to in 2019.
So, what would an Apple iCar be like, and how would they make a car so special that the average Jalop could afford?
3. A Blend of Simplicity and Efficiency
Before diving into where the iCar will exceed its competitors, let me highlight where it will not have to in order to illustrate where it will save costs. The first thing is the motor. Currently, people jump to compare everything to the Tesla Model S, but by the time Apple has a car on the market, it will have to compete with the Tesla Model 3, which should be priced in the 30-35k dollar range. According to KBB, the average price of a new car is $33,543. Yes, this does incorporate Lexus and Porsche sales, but it also incorporates Toyota and Volkswagen sales, of which there is a much higher volume being sold below the average. In the age where monthly payments don’t get larger, loan terms get longer, most people are willing to hand over $28k for a new vehicle. When the Apple iCar hits the market, $30k for a unique product from a familiar brand that will be marketed as revolutionary will not be a hard sell.
As today’s technology for electric cars becomes easier to produce and more companies join the market share, costs to produce what is good today will be much more negligible in the future, which is exactly why the iCar can perform just as well as the Model S does now. It turns out that that comparison could be particularly justifiable.
This emphasis on competent mechanics wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for Apple. The iPhone is considerably less powerful than its Android counterparts, and buying a Mac that matches the performance of an upper tier PC is almost as much of a financial burden as buying a used car. This means that one can expect mechanical components and hardware that are designed to accomplish their specific goal and that alone. Apple doesn’t market their watch by saying that you could use it on the moon. They market it by showing how a mother can use it to tell the kids that dinner is ready. The iCar should focus on getting that same mother to work and the kids to soccer practice.
I would argue that the highest expense will be the design team itself. They’ll need to design a custom iOS for the infotainment system that will look remarkably like an iPad because familiarity is comforting. They’ll need to re-approach and possibly redesign every single aspect of the experience in the car and every facet of the machine itself. They’ll need to make the car work flawlessly with an iPhone. They’ll need to convince people that it’s secure.
Who better to optimize the experience of everything from unlocking the vehicle to getting back out at the end of a trip than the company that redesigned the way we communicate with one another?
Think of how connected Apple users are. While not totally unique to Apple, iPhone users can chat with a classmate while writing a research paper on their Macbook via iMessage. Then, when they meet up later that day, they can send each other documents on their Macs from their phones. Let’s take device connectivity a step further.
If that mother taking the kids to soccer practice earlier gets an email on Tuesday with a time and address for practice on Thursday, what’s to stop her from tapping on that email and choosing to set that as a destination on her iCar’s Apple Maps for that time? Her iPhone can remind her later that day and tell her when to leave based on traffic and weather. When she arrives, the trunk can open automatically to assist in the process of grabbing cleats, a ball, water, etc. While our technology does tend to get in the habit of begging for our attention a bit too much, that utilization of technology doesn’t seem so bad at all. Dare I say it, it might actually make our lives...easier.
4. The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side
This all sounds feasible and great. It very well might be. In fact, I’d love it to be. Take this from someone writing this on his PC, who is on his second Android phone and isn’t looking to make a switch any time soon. I don’t see myself getting behind the wheel of a car with the same logo on the grille as the back of my phone, but innovation by one company forces everyone else to catch up. So while most driving enthusiasts won’t be allured by a car that can’t handle the curvy roads of a mountain pass, improving our cars that can to be a bit more fluid in day-to-day situations might not be such a bad thing.
Or maybe you think it will, in which case, you’ll be interested in reading the opposite opinion, which I will be writing next. Until then, you’ll be on your own to think different.