Last week, we saw the Apple car discussion blow up in a big way, with all sorts of "evidence" advanced to support the possibility.
While all this detective work is interesting, I'm more interested in what Apple could do by starting from scratch and designing a vehicle that addresses modern conditions and modern needs, and uses modern tech, materials and thinking. No obligations to existing suppliers. No need to capitalize on existing investments in manufacturing operations or labor forces. No "old boy" networks to consider. No distribution channel obligations to honor.
Let me say that I'm not a car guy of any description, so before you start emailing me with why something is or isn't possible, please understand this is blue-sky commentary, not speculation or prediction. (Ironically, I probably know more about one particular kind of electric vehicle, having been responsible for a fleet of electric golf carts in a previous life.)
That said, what if...
- you could make cars "upgradable" by easily swapping out components, electronic or mechanical? Parts that were designed to be swapped out.
- you could make a passenger compartment that addressed the hassles of child seats by improving safety in what we now see as the front passenger seat? I know parents who would kill for something that would not sacrifice safety but would put their child beside them in the car and keep them in compliance with the law.
- a steering control could be re-designed to not put essentially a spear pointing at the driver's chest? Yes, I know steering wheels have been made much safer than they used to be, but still...is a steering wheel the most efficient control, or is it a holdover from the past?
- a better low-impact system could be part of the vehicle? Something for those under 5 MPH parking lot interactions that can cost a ridiculous amount of money to fix?
- your car could be equipped with sensors that would adapt to weather and traffic conditions? Not just self-driving but more than that. Options to take alternate routes automatically around accidents. A classic from existing navigation systems: shortest or fastest routes. We're finally seeing some of these kinds of things make it to market, but what difference would a from-the-ground-up design make?
- there was a built-in entertainment/information system for each passenger, customizable and easily upgradable?
- the maintenance needs of the vehicle were actually easy to accomplish? Do you change your own oil? I'm betting not. Can you do obtain easy-to-understand diagnostics from your car? Not without a third-party solution or a visit to your dealer.
- your vehicle could be designed for optimum storage room and/or passenger comfort and could transform easily between the two? How many times have you tried to move a piece of furniture or something and can't get it in be the car because your car door didn't open completely? If only it opened just one more inch! The idea of fold-down seats on steroids. Easily removable seats for when you really need maximum room for cargo.
- your car could have voice control of common, non-driving functions? Or maybe even driving functions?
- there could be an "Internet of Things" connection with your car for remote starting, remote climate control, location in a parking lot and more. (Yes, some of this is available now, but it could be greatly enhanced.)
Note that not all of these are tech issues, but design issues. I'm sure that there are good reasons for some of the choices that have been made up to this point, but how many of them are simply on-going assumptions or are viewed as either too expensive or not important enough to address. What could an unrestricted, unburdened re-think accomplish? What if that were done by Apple, a company with a culture that includes design as a key component, a company who's technical abilities are obvious and a company who takes pride in delivering great products?
The mind boggles.