The striking thing about Motor Trend‘s piece on the rumored Apple car is all the talk of the “user experience.”
The various auto designers and experts interviewed by Motor Trend speculate that Apple will try to redefine the car “experience.” They talk about stuff like acoustics, and look and feel, rather than specs like miles per gallon or engine torque.
They predict that Apple will bring a better “user experience” to the car of the future, not just a better physical product.
This reminded me of interviewing Apple’s designers for my Jony Ive book. They explained that the design group takes exactly this approach when thinking about new Apple products. Instead of starting with chip speeds or screen resolutions, they begin by asking each other how the new product should make the user feel.
And thinking about this made me realize why Jony Ive has a chauffeur. It’s not because he’s a one percenter. It’s about Project Titan, Apple’s future car.
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The Jony Ive chauffeur riddle
Why does Apple’s chief design officer ride around in a chauffeur-driven Bentley?
It has nothing to do with being rich, as Dan Lyons writing for ValleyWag has suggested. For Lyons, having a chauffeur is a sign that Ive is out of touch and “dangerously out of control.”
But the chauffeur isn’t about being rich. It’s about the “experience” of Apple’s rumored car development project. It suggests that Project Titan will be a driverless vehicle, and Ive is gathering data on that experience. Because we don’t have driverless cars yet, a chauffeur is the next best thing.
Jony Ive is obsessed with cars
This is pure guesswork, of course, but it makes sense.
Jony Ive is a car guy. He’s been obsessed with cars nice he was a lad. As a teenager, he restored a classic car with his dad. He originally wanted to be a car designer and investigated car design school, but opted for industrial design instead.
He’s owned an extensive collection of fast, exotic cars over the years, including Aston Martins, Bentleys, Saabs and Land Rovers. Every year, he religiously attends the Goodwood Festival of Speed, the ultimate gearhead gathering.
Most importantly, he likes to drive. Just like Steve Jobs, who sped around in his Mercedes (and parked in handicapped spaces), Ive likes to drive.
He’s had a series of powerful Aston Martins — these are not cars for people who have drivers. When he bought his first Aston Martin, he had it delivered to New York and drove it cross-country with his dad.
Ive drove himself to work in Cupertino from his home in San Francisco for many years, carpooling with fellow designers who lived in the city. It’s a 60-mile round trip every day. He did it for years. In fact, he was almost killed in a car wreck coming home from work in the early 2000s.
About Jony Ive’s chauffeur …
And consider the weird line from last year’s The New Yorker profile of Ive, where it was first revealed that he has a chauffeur:
“We were in Ive’s black Bentley, which is as demure as a highly conspicuous luxury car can be…. We were in the back seat: Ive has reluctantly accepted the services of a driver. Ive said to him, “It’s just over a year, isn’t it, Jean?”
“Reluctantly accepted?” Who reluctantly accepts a chauffeur? It sounds like the driver was pressed on him, but by who?
Tim Cook, his boss? That seems unlikely. Cook might want Ive to be more productive, answering emails during his daily commute, but that seems unlikely.
What about his family? Worried he might wreck his car again, they hired a cautious professional to keep the speed down? Maybe.
It seems most likely to me that his colleagues pressed the driver on him. It was the rest of the design team that urged him to get a chauffeur, so he could experience what it’s like to be in a driverless car. In fact, maybe the rest of the design team have chauffeurs too. Actually, Uber seems more likely.
Honing the Apple Car experience
Why is this important? Because the experience of a product is what informs the most important design decisions. Take the original Bondi Blue iMac, the smash-hit computer that looked unlike any other at the time and helped save Apple from bankruptcy.
Here’s Ive talking about it in Newsweek back on May 18, 1998: “The iMac revolved not around chip speed or market share but squishy questions like ‘How do we want people to feel about it?’ and ‘What part of our minds should it occupy?'”
When Ive’s team was brainstorming the iMac, the feelings they wanted to evoke were “intuitive” and “approachable.”
That’s why they gave it a handle on top. The handle wasn’t for picking the computer up (although it could be used for that). It was a visual cue to the user that they could touch the computer. The handle gave them “permission” to put their hands on it. And that made the machine much less intimidating and precious.
This might sound wishy-washy, until you realize that this is the secret sauce of Apple’s design. Thinking about the feelings and emotions that will be evoked by a product leads the designers to do stuff like throw away a keyboard on a phone in favor of a touchscreen, because a tiny keyboard stinks. It really moves things forward in big leaps.
Apple stock has made Jony Ive insanely rich. He’s a car guy. He could ride a helicopter to work if he wanted, and it would be far more efficient. Instead, he’s riding in the back of a chauffeur-driven Bentley, testing out the “experience” of Apple’s future self-driving car.