Editor-in-Chief of PCWorld and TechHive, MacworldAPR 14, 2016 12:35 am PDT
Cars have always had a high-tech story to tell, but now automobiles and consumer electronics are on a collision course of seismic implications. That big bang in the distance is the Apple Car, currently code-named “Project Titan” according to knowing insiders. It’s not a fait accompli, but
all signs point to Apple working on something in the car space.
And just in case an Apple Car does see the light of day, the editors at Motor Trend want to be prepared. For a story published in the June 2016 issue (you can find the online version
here), the Motor Trend editors enlisted a brain trust of automotive experts to whiteboard what an Apple Car might look, feel, and drive like.
The results, as you’re about to see, are simultaneously sublime and disturbing.
Motor Trend’s ideas team included designers and engineers from the
ArtCenter College of Design (their automobile development bonafides look great). The magazine also tapped insights from automotive-leaning executives at Qualcomm and Google. The goal of the exercise, as the article states, is simple: “Imagine Apple is our client. And we’re going to brainstorm what its car will actually be.”
Make sure to check out the
design study for yourself. But for now, let me just share some highlights and observations.
The future will be written in hideousness
Yikes, this car is ugly. Is Motor Trend trying to troll tech enthusiasts by reimagining the
Pontiac Aztek? Looking like a throat lozenge cast in iPhone gold, the Motor Trend Apple Car basically says, “OK, you nerds want a high-tech car? Then take this. It’s the car you deserve.”
Function informs the ugly
But there is a method to this design madness. You get a design like the Motor Trend Apple Car when you decide Apple will inevitably elevate passenger experience over driver rewards. And so the car—definitely electric, and eventually autonomous—becomes a “premium mono-volume” minivan clad in “hard-coated polycarbonates that allow expansive glass surfaces for augmented or ‘merged-reality’ projections.” And note the massive gullwing doors that open automatically and let you walk right in. Because, you know, Apple gear “just works.”
Of course there’s iOS integration
Aside from stripping the surface of the car to make it look more, well, iPhone-like, the Motor Trend Apple Car has sublime iOS integration. Your phone or Apple Watch triggers touch-free entry into the car, as well as memory settings for seating, mirrors and climate control. Siri greets you upon ingress, asking for itinerary instructions. And, of course, iTunes integration will be unparalleled.
You really need to dig into the magazine version of the design study to see all of Motor Trend’s thoughtful touches. I especially like the team’s approach to ambient cabin lighting, and an interior with “creviceless” surfaces—because in the future, when you’re sharing vehicle ownership with others, you won’t want your valuables getting stuck in seat rails. But what I dig most about this Apple Car is the augmented-reality dashboard experience.
Note the navigation prompts at the top of the windshield (which, by the way, is made of “thin automotive Gorilla Glass”). Note how pedestrians are outlined as targets for an autonomous driving system to avoid. As Motor Trend explains, “Their purpose is to give the occupants confidence that the car sees them rather than acting as driver alerts.”
Is any of this augmented-reality vision practical or even likely? I don’t know. But I love just speculating. Many, many years ago, when I was running the now-defunct Mac|Life, that magazine’s editorial team went through a similar Apple Car exercise, and came up with a vision for an iCar. We imagined an Apple partnership with Audi, and aside from then-state-of-the-art iOS integration in the dashboard, the special iCar edition of the Audi TT was mostly about a merger of visual design DNA.
Dig the Apple logo on the wheels, and how illustrator Adam Benton tweaked the Audi logo on the front grille. The Mac|Life iCar had nowhere near the engineering investment of the Motor Trend Apple Car… but it sure looked a hell of a lot better.
Again, you really need to check out Motor Trend’s image galleries to see what I mean. What do you think of their vision? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
Jon has been covering all manner of consumer hardware since 1995. He brought the Bitchin'fast!3D2000 to market in 1999, and has ran MaximumPC, Mac|Life, Mobile, Greenbot and Macworld, among other consumer tech magazines and websites.