It’s fun guessing what sort of car Apple will make, even if it’s all just bullshit for now.
Believe it or not, I actually started this project before Motor Trend debuted its May 2016 issue, which devoted its entire cover and many pages to the same subject. Usually I would lament going second, but in this case, I can learn from Motor Trend’s less-than-smooth rollout. So let’s be clear about something up front: this is not the actual Apple Car, nor are any of these designs informed by actual knowledge of what the Apple Car will be. I’m just having fun, spitballing what I think an Apple-made car might look and be like when it arrives near the end of the decade.
For me, this is the convergence of two loves: cars and Apple products. I’ve loved cars and reading about them since I can remember, and I made writing about them my profession. All of my professional writing, every single character, has been done on Apple computers, from the first one I purchased for myself back in college (a lime green iMac G3/333 with 32 megabytes of RAM and a 6 gigabyte hard drive) to the current one I use for work (a 15-inch MacBook Pro Retina with 16 GB of RAM and a 500 GB solid-state hard drive). In between have been a few iPods, five iPhones, two iPads, and two Apple TVs. I even worked at an Apple Store for a couple of years before this day job took off.
I’m just having fun, spitballing what I think an Apple-made car might look and be like.
Suffice it to say, I’m very familiar with the Apple brand, its design aesthetic, business models, and overall corporate ethos, at least as much as any diehard user can be. And so, being the only dyed-in-the-wool Apple fanboi on our team, I gladly stepped forward to help flesh out our purely speculative ideas about what the electric (I think?) Apple Car will be.
Helping me is car designer Samir Sadkhov, a graduate of the European Institute of Design who’s worked on Lamborghinis, has a Red Dot Design award, and took second place in the Ferrari World Design Contest. He’s even given a TED talk. Samir is an incredible artist and car designer who, despite having owned many Apple products in the past, is now a Windows/Android user. His presence on this project was invaluable not just for his skill with a stylus, but also for tempering my Apple admiration with his experiences from across the aisle. For instance, he tells me there are other companies making excellent phones, computers, and tablets; I’ll have to take his word for it.
Why does it look that way?
Samir and I didn’t try to design the most beautiful automobile that will ever be made. There has to be some function to this form – a lot of functionality, actually – and we also used some reasonable-sounding reports about the Apple Car to inform Samir’s designs.
While the earliest reports claimed that Apple was working on a minivan-like vehicle, we chose to go with another rumor. In July of 2015, a German business magazine reported that the company had been talking to BMW about using the i3’s body as the basis for its Apple Car. That makes a lot of sense because the i3 has proven itself as a great platform for an electric vehicle with its ultralight, carbon fiber frame. It’s also small on the outside while still being able to fit four adults comfortably. And its gorgeous interior is, dare I say it, Apple-esque in the way it uses traditional automotive materials in new ways.
So Samir used the basic shape and size of the BMW i3 as our starting point, but the design itself we think will be all Apple. For our interpretation, we decided the Apple Car will likely share some design notes with other Apple products, particularly a silver metallic finish on the body panels that contrasts with glossy black finishes and glass. It’s modern and minimalistic like all Apple products, but hopefully doesn’t come across like an iPad on wheels.
The exterior is as slick as Gorilla Glass.
Since Apple is known for introducing ideas that seem crazy at first but then become commonplace, we wanted to include one of our own in these exterior renderings. You’ll notice small information screens at the bottom of the front doors. Their main function is to inform drivers around the Apple Car when it’s operating in Autonomous Drive mode or being used as a ride-sharing vehicle (or both). It could also display other messages, like the current weather, eco stats, or a digitally flipped bird for the car that was just riding your tail.
The rest of the exterior is as slick as Gorilla Glass with very tight panel gaps, minimal filigree, and cameras in place of side mirrors to keep wind resistance as minimal as possible.
I can’t recall anyone dreaming up what an Apple Car cabin might look. Considering, though, this company is the Once and Future King of user interface design (did I mention I’m a fanboi?), what the inside looks like and how it works will be vastly more interesting than what’s going on with its exterior.
Turns out, imagining an Apple Car interior is even harder to do than coming up with an exterior design. While there’ll surely be plenty of governmental regulations that must be adhered to (the seat can only be this close to the door, the turn signal must be marked this way, the speedometer must be in increments of 10 miles per hour, etc.), I still feel Apple’s modern and minimalist style will pervade in the cabin.
First off, I think there’ll be screens, lots of screens. In Samir’s rendering, we’ve got two levels of screens in front of the driver that span the whole dashboard. Rather than increase the car’s part count, we think Apple will do away with most physical controls like knobs and buttons and recreate them with software and screens. There’s a precedent for this: the original iPhone was one of the first phones to eschew buttons in favor of just a large screen. Apple only gave us the home button, and we expect a similar experience inside the Apple Car.
We’ve also dreamed up something interesting on the inside of the doors. There you’ll find a somewhat thin, long screen that spans nearly the entire length of the car’s interior on both sides. Whether the Apple Car ends up being a personal transportation vehicle or an autonomous ride-sharing platform, we envision the need for every passenger to interface with the car. So all four seating positions can interact with these side screens to adjust their temperature, check the vehicle’s status, or consume entertainment ($1.29 songs or rentals from the iTunes Store, of course).
Apple will do away with most physical controls and recreate them with software and screens.
I also think Apple would also open up this screen real estate to third-party app developers. Imagine Angry Birds baked right into the car door, or a personalized Netflix experience for all three passengers. What’s more likely is that we can’t even imagine what apps developers will create to amaze us, just like we couldn’t when the iPad debuted.
What about those seats? I’m honestly not sure how Apple will tackle seating, so Samir and I went with the simplest kind we could think of: benches! What’s more important than their shape, though, is the fact that they are, perhaps surprisingly, not adorned with screens. Without airbags in front of their faces, backseat passengers have it tough enough without a screen and some hardware to slam into, so we nixed them here.
I also don’t think there’ll be places to dock iPhones and iPads. Why? Because smartphones can communicate with your car just fine using Bluetooth or wifi and charging can now be done wirelessly, too (expect it to be baked into future versions of the iPhone and iPad). Docking, even plugging in, will be a thing of the past soon. In fact, while you do see a charging cord attached to the car in one of our renderings, we could easily see Apple being integral in pushing the adoption of wireless charging for electric vehicles.
What’ll it be called?
Probably not the Apple Car. Nor the iCar. As for what its moniker might be, your guess is as good as ours. None of us saw “iPad” coming, so its badge might be something we wouldn’t guess in a million years.
If you ask me, the best name ever given to an Apple product is the original Macintosh. Despite being known as the company’s nickname (a Mac), Macintosh started out as a line of computers Apple produced back in the mid-1980s. That first Macintosh was revolutionary in the personal computer space, though admittedly flawed too. Still, you wouldn’t be using a mouse or dragging windows around your screen if there had been no Macintosh. And the name itself, Macintosh, a phonetic twin for an actual variety of apple, has a neat connection with the company’s brand name that no other product has since. So how about the Apple Fuji? Gala? Braeburn?
Project Titan is supposedly what the Apple Car is being called internally, but Nissan already applies that name to its decidedly un-Apple-like line of pickup trucks.
Hopefully the Apple Car will be christened with a name that’s at least a real word. The ‘i’ thing is played out and “Apple Car” is just too… descriptive. I also hope it’s not a meaningless string of letters and numbers like some luxury automakers are using. Something like the Apple AC1 sounds like a vintage coding language.
What if you can’t even buy one?
There is the possibility that Apple isn’t even building a car for normal people like you and me to park in our garages. There have already been rumors that Apple might be creating a ride-requesting service that uses a fleet of autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicles to ferry you from one location to the next. The Apple Car, then, would be the vehicle that’s either leased or sold to drivers for this service, or created only for Apple, which would operate the entire service itself and own the vehicles.
In May 2016, Apple stoked the flames of this speculation when it invested $1 billion in a Chinese Uber-rival called Didi Chuxing, which owns an 80-percent share of the ride-requesting market in China.
As much as I want to camp out overnight at an Apple Store to be the first in line to put a deposit down on an Apple Car, I think that’s unlikely to happen. Apple is the master of creating tightly woven and highly profitable vertical integrations of its products and services. For instance, you buy an iPhone from Apple and then you buy songs to play on it through Apple. Apple will also sell you a case for your iPhone, replacement earbuds (for when they inevitably break), and a longer warranty. The point is, Apple likes to take care of you, the customer, all the way from your point of purchase through your next upgrade, and get paid for it at each step of the way.
The real revolution of an Apple Car will be the entirely new business model Apple creates around it.
But a car isn’t the same thing as an iPhone, and if Apple just sold you a car outright, then it couldn’t charge you every time you use the car. Instead, Apple could create a ride-requesting service like Uber where you’re not only paying for a fraction of the cost of the car every time you use it, but you’re also paying for the cost of the ride itself. The company gets paid twice!
In the short term, Apple could staff this service with drivers who are the on-road equivalent of their well-regarded Apple Store associates, thus ensuring a better customer experience than the lottery you enter into when using current services like Uber. And in the future, when autonomous driving technology is good enough, maybe the Apple Car will come to you autonomously and let you drive it wherever you need to go. A little farther in the future, you might not need to do any of the driving at all.
So why would Apple want to sell you a car directly and cut off a second, potentially large revenue stream, as well as let go control of the consumer experience at the point of purchase? Wouldn’t it be better for Apple to let none of us own an Apple Car, and instead sell (or rent) us the best ride experience in the world? I think the real revolution of an Apple Car won’t be how it looks or drives, but the entirely new business model Apple creates around it.