The New York Times‘ Nick Bilton reminded everyone recently what we previously learned from longtime Apple board member Mickey Drexler: Steve Jobs wanted to build an Apple iCar.
People tend to dismiss the idea as a goofy pipe dream. In fact, not only is an Apple iCar a great idea, it’s perfectly aligned with Apple’s history and mission.
Here’s how they should do it.
An automobile performs several functions. First and foremost, of course, it’s a conveyance — a device with a motor and wheels that transports human bodies, as well as groceries and golf clubs, from one place to another.
Secondarily, however, a car is a content consumption device. People listen to the radio, digital music, audiobooks and more — or chat on the phone — while they’re in their cars.
So that’s what a car is. But what is Apple?
People think of Apple as a computer company, or more recently a consumer electronics company. But that’s not really what they are or how they see themselves.
Apple views itself as a company that exists to save the world from horrible content consumption and communication interfaces.
They look around for industries where millions or billions of people are suffering from ugly, non-intuitive, clunky user interfaces with no help in sight, then step in to redesign a better way.
When the world was stuck with IBM PC DOS-like command line user interfaces, Apple stepped in with the Lisa and the Mac.
When music fans were suffering with clunky devices and interfaces for listing to portable CD players, Walkmans and horrible digital music players, they saved the music world with the iPod.
When people were stuck with BlackBerrys and other clunky, funky phones, Apple came out with the iPhone.
And when Microsoft and Intel wanted to force the Windows-based Tablet PC and Ultra-Mobile PC on the world, Apple saved us all by introducing the iPad.
I and many other believe that the TV is the next horrible content consumption experience that Apple intends to transform into something awesome.
So after the computer, music player, phone, tablet and TV, what’s the next biggest content consumption experience that currently sucks?
That’s right: Your car.
Apple Is Bigger Than Detroit
Another way to look at a car is by the types of expertise that goes into producing one. A car requires design expertise, computer expertise, user interface design, materials engineering and manufacturing prowess — all of which Apple is significantly better at than the car industry is.
Of course, the particulars of automobile design, computers, interfaces, materials and manufacturing are different from those in the consumer electronics industry. But such expertise can be easily purchased.
Anyone who thinks the car industry is a big, complex, expensive proposition for a company that makes little gadgets might want to reset their perspective.
Apple, in fact, could buy Ford, Chrysler and GM and pay in cash — and still have more than $18 billion left in the cash hoard. No, I’m not saying Apple could buy any of them. I’m saying Apple could literally buy ALL of them with cash on hand based on the value of their existing market caps.
Apple is a giant, powerful company compared with any US automaker — or even compared with all of them.
So one way for Apple to get into the car business would be for Apple to simply buy an existing car company.
But which one?
I think the answer is clear: Tesla Motors.
With that purchase they would have all the expertise and manufacturing capability they would need to build Apple-influenced cars.
Tesla is currently considered an extreme luxury brand with impossibly expensive electric cars. But they’ve been planning for years to bring out increasingly affordable cars, and are even now working on a car that should cost about $30,000.
Apple could influence the direction of future Tesla designs (which are already awesome), and totally take over the dashboard design. Right now, all Tesla dash controls are on a 17-inch touch screen, which is both leading-edge and desperately in need of Apple’s “touch,” if you will.
(Tesla showrooms are designed by Apple’s former retail chief, George Blankenship.)
By buying the world’s most innovative electric-car company, Apple would remain true to its mantra of investing in future technologies and abandoning the past.
And by transforming the user interface of the car, and also making the dashboard an awesome content consumption experience, Apple would continue its tradition of fixing bad design in content consumption.
Steve Jobs’ dream of building an Apple iCar is not only something Apple could do, it’s something they absolutely should do.