4 lessons Apple Car should learn from Tesla

4 lessons Apple Car should learn from Tesla


If Apple really is making a car, it should take some cues from Tesla.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

With all the recent rumors that Apple will build an electric car within the next few years, obviously Cupertino is going to be compared to the big electric car company of the moment, Tesla Motors.

Tesla sold more than 50,000 model S sedans in 2015, so I’m taking a look at four Apple Car lessons that Tim Cook and Jony Ive should learn from Tesla.

Check out the video below.

1. Utilize technology, but keep it simple

The first lesson Apple could learn is to use all of its technology know-how — but keep it simple. Apple’s made a few missteps over the past few years when it comes to keeping its gadgets easy to use. For example, there’s the bloated iTunes. Even one of Apple’s latest products, the Apple Watch, would benefit from a simpler layout (some of that is coming with the watchOS 3 UI overhaul, thankfully).

Apple needs to bring the big guns to the Apple Car interface. If they just place an iPad mini running some sort of CarPlay OS in the dashboard, it’s not going to be a standout feature. Tesla’s cars run a huge 17-inch touchscreen display that can control every function of the automobile. It’s neatly laid out and easy to navigate. Tesla also gives buyers four years of free 3G, trip monitoring, driving styles, internet radio and Google Maps to use for navigation.

Of course you’re not supposed to be looking at a screen while driving, but if it’s simple, wandering eyes will spend less time there.

If Apple creates a new OS, or even a “Pro” version of CarPlay, that utilizes all of the Apple Car’s functions and added Siri, Apple Music and over-the-air updates, they’ll be onto a winner.

2. Take risks and be innovative

One of the reasons Tesla is such a success is because the company did something different. In a sea of hybrids and weird-looking electric cars, Tesla designed a car you actually want to drive.

One of the most recent reports about the Apple Car (or iCar — whatever you’d like to call it) revealed that Cupertino was in talks with BMW to use the BMW i3 as a base for the Apple Car but the conversations fell through.

Car manufacturers constantly use other cars as a starting point: The hipster favorite Fiat 500 is based on the granny favorite Fiat Panda. The Aston Martin DB7 was based on the Jaguar XK8. The list goes on.

But one of the reasons Tesla stands out from its rivals is that it did something different. The Tesla Model S is built on a skateboard-style base, which also houses all the car’s batteries. It’s based on something General Motors teased back in 2002 but never acted upon.

Tesla took the idea and ran with it, improving the concept by adding the ability to replace the electric car’s power supply. Placing batteries underneath the cabin floor gave the Tesla lower center of gravity, which means better handling.

I want Apple to take a few chances and push the boundaries. After all, the company is known for redefining markets. Tablets already existed before iPads, but they’re now the tablet to beat. I don’t know what Apple could do exactly, though … maybe wireless charging? (Oh wait, we can’t even get that on an iPhone yet.)

3. Sell the Apple Car properly

Next on my list is sales, and I’m not overly concerned about this one. Apple has one of the best retail experiences when it comes to purchasing its products, whether in-store or online.

The way Tesla sell its cars is completely different from the competition. Tesla doesn’t operate huge car lots with hundreds of cars to look through. Instead, they run small, boutique stores with one or two cars on display. You book a test drive; if you like it, you sit with a member of the Tesla retail team and choose your options. Once you’ve sorted out payment (Teslas still ain’t cheap!), you wait for Tesla to deliver your car to your door.

Apple’s already got the retail stores. Maybe not all of them could fit a car inside, but Apple could use selected stores with specially trained geniuses. The key here is simplicity: The Apple car isn’t going to be cheap (surprise!), so making the shopping experience as simple and pain-free as possible is a must.

When it comes to secondhand cars, maybe Apple could offer some sort of a trade-in scheme to refurbish and resell trade-ins (or recycle them with a giant version of Liam).

4. Over-deliver on range and tech

Last on my list is to over-deliver, in every sense. Apple has suffered a few software issues and lapses in quality control in the last few years, but Cupertino desperately needs to get this right with the Apple Car.

Apple also needs to make sure it doesn’t scrimp on tech where it’s needed. For example, there’s no reason why the iPhone SE’s front-facing camera wasn’t upgraded from the iPhone 5s’ 1.2-megapixel camera to the iPhone 6’s 5-megapixel camera. If Apple is planning to include cameras on the Apple Car as parking aids, the company needs make them decent (720p or above).

With iPhones and iPads, Apple is fairly accurate and true with its battery life estimates. The company needs to be the same way with the Apple Car’s range. Most electric car manufacturers, with the odd exception, claim a range of 100 miles. But that’s not always the case unless you’re driving downhill with the radio off and a bit of a breeze behind you.

Tesla’s 86kwh Model S claims a range of 320 miles. And guess what? It pretty much meets that estimate; I’ve even seen people surpass it.

Apple needs to over-deliver on this, because range anxiety holds a lot of people back when it comes to taking the plunge on an electric car. Tesla’s cars just work, and when I took one out for a spin for a day, I wasn’t worrying about running out of juice in the middle of the road.

On top of Tesla’s range, quality and technical achievements, the Model S is one of the most exciting cars to drive. I was worried about my first experience driving a fully electric vehicle, thinking the car might be soulless despite its speed.

Damn was I wrong. Driving a Model S was the most fun I’ve ever had behind the wheel of a car. The Model S is faster than a Porsche 911 GT3, Ford Shelby GT500 or Ferrari 599 GTO, all while being able to fit five adults, two children and all of my shopping. That’s over-delivering.

Take my money, Apple Car!

Overall, Apple needs to make the Apple Car premium and unique. The car needs to “just work” and be simple. If Cupertino can do all that, and there’s any chance in hell I could afford one, I’d be the first in line.

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