5 ways Apple car could change the way we think about automobiles


Could Apple reinvent the car as we know it?
Could Apple reinvent the car as we know it?
Photo: Austrian National Library/Unsplash CC

Apple’s rumored electric vehicle could be just a nice luxury item that appeals to Apple fans with a lot of disposable income, similar to the HomePod or AirPods Max — but far more expensive. Or it could alter the automotive experience in a far more profound, Apple-esque manner.

I’d bet on the latter option. Apple doesn’t do things by halves. Steve Jobs famously stated that he wanted to build a personal computer that would put a ding in the universe. The iPhone, Apple Stores, the Apple Watch, iTunes and the App Store — those all changed the way that we use technology on a regular basis. They solved a bigger problem than just giving us a nice, Apple-branded version of an existing product to play with.

If Apple makes a car, it will likely remake the way we think about cars. Here are five ways Cupertino could do that.

1. Simplifying the car-buying experience

Remember how revolutionary it was when Steve Jobs came back to Apple and chopped the company’s entire bloated product line down to a simple grid of four products? You had a pro laptop and a consumer laptop. You had a pro desktop and a consumer desktop.

Apple could do something similar with cars and, as a result, the car-buying process. You get a choice of three different Apple Car sizes, with a handful of color options, a few different battery sizes, and a choice of three types of tire. It’s all about simplicity.

Tesla already applied this iPhone-style approach to selling cars. But Apple could kick it into overdrive.

2. Customizing cars with killer software

Everyone’s iPhone more or less looks the same. The thing that differs is how we use them. Here in 2021, everyone has their own “killer app” or app category that they can build their iPhone experience around. These profoundly impact the way we use our iPhones, whether it’s for photography, gaming or whatever else.

A similar transition could take place with an Apple car. The idea of being able to customize your vehicle through software opens up plenty of intriguing possibilities. Apple could truly lean into its focus on augmented reality to do in-car displays that look like something out of a fighter jet’s cockpit. Other companies already doing in-car AR, which is both socially and technologically an easier proposition than making powerful AR glasses (which Apple is also heavily rumored to be pursuing).

3. Solving the travel problem, not just the car problem

Apple does ecosystems better than virtually any company in history. It doesn’t just sell individual products, but rather creates products that play nice with one another. In recent years, Apple applied the “it just works” philosophy to whole new areas like finance and medical records.

An Apple car could harness this to solve the pain points of car ownership that have nothing to do with the vehicles themselves. What if you just drove into a parking garage and were automatically charged via Apple Pay? What if your Apple car interacted with your smart home to fire up the thermostat or started cooking your dinner when you were on your way back from the office? Both of these are currently possible to some degree. But they could be made more seamless using Apple car.

This is something no other car company could compete with, because no other car company has spent the last decade creating a home-automation platform like HomeKit, a payments solution like Apple Pay, or a ticketing solution like the Wallet app. Apple has. The joy of this wouldn’t just be a car that just works. It would be an entire travel experience that seems to do the same.

4. Selling an Apple car subscription

Apple’s all about services these days. The subscription model started under Steve Jobs with cloud offerings, but current Apple CEO Tim Cook hit the accelerator in a big, bad way. iCloud, Apple TV+, Apple Music, the iPhone Upgrade Program, Apple Fitness+ … on it goes. What if Apple applied a similar model to a car?

Automobile companies have, of course, been leasing cars for decades. But imagine a more profound version of automobile-as-a-service. There could be different subscription levels, with the kind of vehicle you were able to rent changing accordingly. You could drop your subscription for a few months if you wouldn’t need to use your car. You could upgrade to a higher tier when you needed something extra for a family vacation.

I won’t pretend to know the exact dynamics of this idea. There are multiple ways it could be implemented, from a next-generation Lyft or Uber type of service, based on ultra-short-term hires, to something that’s more like traditional leasing, but with more monthly flexibility. The idea that people should own a car, whether they need it all the time or not, seems kind of dated. Apple could help change that.

5. Rethinking travel

Electric, self-driving cars are new technology, but they are based on a vehicle platform — the automobile — that’s a century old. In many ways, cars are an imperfect transportation method, particularly in dense cities. What if, rather than building the iMac of cars, Apple instead aimed for something smaller, along the lines of the iPhone?

A 2015 Medium post by Michael Keating, founder of electric scooter and moped company Scoot, argued that Apple could be better off building a small mobility vehicle that would cost less, be more accessible to people in urban areas, and wouldn’t get stuck in traffic. “My bet is that what Apple calls Project Titan is actually a tiny, plug-in electric, networked vehicle that it will sell a version of for less than $10,000,” Keating wrote.

Much as the iPhone and iPad taught us that there was a new ideal form factor for screen-based computing devices, so too could Apple alter our expectations by showcasing a totally new form of transportation for shorter-distance travel. That would make sense of the recent rumors suggesting there will be no steering wheel on Apple’s drivable (something that seems extremely unlikely for autonomous cars anytime soon.)

Heck, over the weekend, Apple tipster Jon Prosser said on Twitter, “Apple car isn’t what you think it is.” So what is it, then?

Will Apple car transform the automobile world?

There is a chance that Apple will do nothing of the sort, of course. The idea that an autonomous vehicle will be possible, in both technological and regulatory terms, in half a decade seems far-fetched. (That’s before you even consider that Apple is rarely first to market with any new technology, and likes to wait for early attempts by others to shake out.)

It could be that the Apple car, if and when it does show up, is more like a smarter, electric upgrade of the iBeetle, the Apple collaboration with German automaker Volkswagen from 2013. That car came in Apple-inspired colors, with a built-in docking station for your iPhone and a special app that let you control the car’s features.

But, if it’s not a paradigm-busting next-gen vehicle, backed up with some innovative strategies, Apple could disappoint plenty of folks. Cupertino has the potential to do more than just make a Tesla rival that runs Apple software. It could fundamentally change the travel experience.

There’s never been a company in history with more resources to pull this off. If anybody can completely change the way we think about cars, it’s Apple.

Sound off: What’s your take?

What would you like to see from an Apple Car? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.


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