This post has been more than one year in the making. I’ve been writing down ideas for some time now, ever since Project Titan was revealed in February 2015. Finally, these ideas have become what I call the Apple Car strategy and the Room of Requirement. As a Harry Potter fan, I couldn’t resist the reference to the famous saga. The reason will be revealed throughout the article.
The Traffic Jam Conundrum
The detonating idea occurred to me a while ago, as I was driving my brother’s car through one of Madrid’s jammed arteries. It’s this one: it doesn’t matter what kind of car you own or drive, it will get stuck in traffic just like the others.
There is a Spanish poem by Jorge Manrique dedicated to his father’s death that perfectly illustrates this issue:
Our lives are fated as the rivers
That gather downward to the sea
We know as Death;
And thither every flood delivers
The pride and pomp of seigniory
Thither, the rivers in their splendor;
Thither, the streams of modest worth,—
The rills beside them;
Till there all equal they surrender;
And so with those who toil on earth,
And those who guide them.
In other words, at the end of our lives it won’t matter how we earned a living. Rich and poor will all get caught by Death’s cold grasp.
In a less dramatic tone, getting stuck in a traffic jam sounds like the fate of every car owner. It won’t matter if you have a brand new Lamborghini or a Jaguar. A BMW M3 gets stuck in traffic just like a SEAT Ibiza or a cheap Dacia Logan.
The only difference is the price tag.
That is why when people refer to Tesla as the company that will revolutionise transportation, I smile to myself remembering the Traffic Jam Conundrum. A Tesla Model S, even with all the technology breakthroughs assembled within it, won’t change the fact that its driver will get stuck in traffic.
Just like a BMW. Just like a Volkswagen.
With this, I don’t want to dismiss Tesla’s advancements. Au contraire. But Tesla is nothing but the “faster horse” that Henry Ford famously quoted when asked about what consumers wanted.
Then, if the most advanced electric automaker is not the answer to the Traffic Jam Conundrum, who will solve it? And most importantly, how?
A Very Primitive Way of Moving Around
Before revealing what the Apple Car strategy and the Room of Requirement have to do with each other, I find it useful to ponder about how we move around with cars. Operating a car is really a primitive thing when you think about it.
You have to steer a wheel, step on up to three pedals and move a lever up and down, left and right, to go faster or slower. At least, these are the mechanisms involved in driving a stick shift.
At the same time, the driver has to look up front in addition to three other mirrors in order to move around and change lanes. Also, use the flashing lights to indicate other drivers when you want to move to another lane.
During the night, you push this button once to switch on the low beams. Pull a lever and the high beams turn on. Another lever will turn on the windshield wipers.
Is it too hot? Press these buttons and turn this wheel to turn on the AC. Too cold? Do the same, but the other way around. The seat is too close or far from the wheel? More levers, up to three.
Levers, buttons and wheels everywhere.
Some car makers have brought technology to fix this, but have mostly exacerbated this problem. Just take a look at this picture:
This is what the dashboard of a 2000 Nissan Primera looks like. The Japanese automaker decided that mixing the newly released GPS technology with the AC system, radio and a joystick to move around the menus was a good idea. But ended up being a complete disaster.
I’ve driven this car several times this summer. It is my father-in-law’s car. I hate it.
You would think that since the year 2000, automakers would have learned their lessons. But they haven’t. While I was living in Canada last year, I had the chance to drive several cars:
- Volkswagen Golf.
- Chevrolet Cruze.
- Toyota Corolla.
- Dodge Charger.
- Infiniti Q50.
None of them, not even the Infiniti.
Some would say that Tesla is the one that solved it. But take a look at the dashboard of a Tesla Model S:
The traditional dashboard has been substituted by a 17″ touchscreen. I haven’t personally tried one, but in all the photos and videos I’ve seen to date, it looks like the old levers and buttons paradigm. A slightly improved version of the old physical knobs.
In other words, a faster horse.
In order to fundamentally change the way we move around, we need to eradicate all the primitive aspects of a car and build a vehicle that addresses the Traffic Jam Conundrum properly.
The Apple Car strategy and the Room of Requirement
While working for Accenture as a business consultant in Madrid, I used public transportation on a daily basis. It was a 30-35 minute per trip, up to 1 hour per day spent commuting. I was lucky. Other colleagues had to commute for two hours a day. Sometimes more.
I learned to enjoy these commutes as I would spend my time reading blog posts or ebooks, listening to music, texting or calling friends and family. I considered it my personal time, although I was surrounded by strangers.
I expect the car of the future to focus on this experience, improving on several aspects where cars and public transportation fall short. I believe Apple will be the one of the few companies to deliver the imminent personal transportation revolution. The strategic importance of Apple Music reveals some of the reasons behind Apple’s need to develop critical technology and services in-house.
That is how I came up with The Apple Car strategy and the Room of Requirement idea.
In Harry Potter and The Secret Chamber, the house-elf Dobby explains what the Room of Requirement is (emphasis added):
It is a room that a person can only enter when they have real need of it. Sometimes it is there, and sometimes it is not, but when it appears, it is always equipped for the seeker’s needs.
Always equipped for the seeker’s needs. I believe that what Apple is working on is a completely new way of looking into personal transportation. A product where the main attributes are not speed, performance or prestige, the traditional ones of the auto industry.
Instead, the Apple Car strategy will be like the Room of Requirement: always there when you need it, always ready for your needs.
And what needs are those? First of all, getting back the time wasted on your daily commute. It will be a vehicle that, when you step in, will allow you to do all those things I mentioned earlier. In a more intimate and comfortable way:
- Read ebooks, news and blog posts.
- Listen to music.
- Play a game.
- Catch up on the latest episode of your favourite show.
- Watch a movie or documentary.
- Work, like sending emails, doing FaceTime conference calls, reviewing presentations or writing new ones.
- Take a nap.
- Organise your social life.
It will be your living room and your office. But in wheels.
You will enjoy your time during your daily commute. Attributes will be flipped. Instead of appealing to performance and speed, the Apple Car will provide a great experience every day, allowing you to take advantage of the minutes you previously wasted driving to and from your office.
When you look at this problem with new eyes, you realise that the personal transportation space is in dire need of some serious innovation.
Built Around the Passenger
If you’ve ever visited Tesla Model S webpage, you would’ve noticed this sentence: “Built around the driver”.
That’s exactly the problem with all current cars. They’re built around the driver’s needs. What about the passengers? They are second class citizens. If you think hard about it, the driver has all the goodies:
- Best seat, with all kinds of features to make the trip more comfortable.
- Best viewing angles, all mirrors and dashboards are built with the driver in mind.
- Best and easiest access to all the cars infotainment systems.
An Apple Car will turn this upside down. There will be no driver because it will be an autonomous driving car, of course. I only mention this technology in passing because it won’t be the focus of the Apple Car strategy. As Steve Jobs used to say:
It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.
Every tech and automaker company is focusing on their autonomy technology, making sure everyone’s heard about it. But the focus is wrong, as they are using this technology and sticking it to a traditional car with sensors. They are not thinking what that technology allows and all the things you can get rid of with it. No mirrors, no steering wheels, no shifts, no flashing lights, no need for the seats to look up front.
When you get rid of all this and more, you get what a true personal transportation vehicle should be. One built around passengers. In this light, a conventional car distribution won’t do. It will need to be like the living room on wheels we talked about earlier.
Something like the 1957 Fiat Multipla a company linked to Apple that was reportedly bought in 2014.
Imagine a fleet of SUVs, freely roaming around your city, waiting for you to summon one of them. You step in and sit at one of the six seats available. There are other people inside too, some of them are colleagues from your office. But no one is driving.
As soon as you take a seat, it will set all the parameters according to your body: height, backrest, temperature, etc. Siri will then ask you if you want to continue watching last night’s episode of Stranger Things, season 6. But you decide to browse your email and review a presentation on your iPad. Because productivity!
Every day, the route is different, optimised to traffic jams, accidents and road works. Because every day, the route changes depending on the passengers seated with you on your commute, unlike public transportation’s inefficient routes.
Once you get to your office, you step out and enter the building. You didn’t have to pay for anything, since it is a monthly fee that allows you to get on and off as much as you want. Your Apple Watch made sure it was you stepping on the Apple Car.
This service will open many doors for Apple. It will allow the company to be closer to the user in a space where it previously had no presence, something similar to the reasons of the success of the Netflix business model.
Sounds familiar? That’s because Uber is aiming in the same direction. Guess now who’s the Apple Car competition?