Imagining Apple Car: How hardcore car enthusiasts see Apple's rumored automobile

Motortrend just doodled on the proverbial cocktail napkin, and its Apple Car vision is simultaneously sublime and disturbing.

Cars have always had a high-tech story to tell, but now automobiles and consumer electronics are on a collision course of seismic implications. That big bang in the distance is the Apple Car, currently code-named “Project Titan” according to knowing insiders. It’s not a fait accompli, but all signs point to Apple working on something in the car space.

And just in case an Apple Car does see the light of day, the editors at Motortrend want to be prepared. For a story published in the June 2016 issue (you can find the online version here), the Motortrend editors enlisted a brain trust of automotive experts to whiteboard what an Apple Car might look, feel, and drive like.

The results, as you’re about to see, are simultaneously sublime and disturbing.

Mototrend’s ideas team included designers and engineers from the ArtCenter College of Design (their automobile development bonafides look great). The magazine also tapped insights from automotive-leaning executives at Qualcomm and Google. The goal of the exercise, as the article states, is simple: “Imagine Apple is our client. And we’re going to brainstorm what its car will actually be.”

motortrend apple car sketch Motortrend

Step inside! As ArtCenter’s Stewart Reed posits, “Approaching it will be like walking up to an amazing store in Tokyo, the way the door opens up and presents isn’t a door you grab but a roof that raises and you walk in.”

Make sure to check out the design study for yourself. But for now, let me just share some highlights and observations.

The future will be written in hideousness

Yikes, this car is ugly. Is Motortrend trying to troll tech enthusiasts by reimagining the Pontiac Aztec? Looking like a throat lozenge cast in iPhone gold, the Motortrend Apple Car basically says, “OK, you nerds want a high-tech car? Then take this. It’s the car you deserve.”

Function informs the ugly

But there is a method to this design madness. You get a design like the Motortrend Apple Car when you decide Apple will inevitably elevate passenger experience over driver rewards. And so the car—definitely electric, and eventually autonomous—becomes a “premium mono-volume” minivan clad in “hard-coated polycarbonates that allow expansive glass surfaces for augmented or ‘merged-reality’ projections.” And note the massive gullwing doors that open automatically and let you walk right in. Because, you know, Apple gear “just works.”

680b9964 Mototrend

It appears an early Mototrend vision of the Apple Car consigned a piece of fruit to continuous-tread locomotion.

Of course there’s iOS integration

Aside from stripping the surface of the car to make it look more, well, iPhone-like, the Motortrend Apple Car has sublime iOS integration. Your phone or Apple Watch triggers touch-free entry into the car, as well as memory settings for seating, mirrors and climate control. Siri greets you upon ingress, asking for itinerary instructions. And, of course, iTunes integration will be unparalleled.

Augmented reality dashboard—the ultimate head-up display

You really need to dig into the magazine version of the design study to see all of Mototrend’s thoughtful touches. I especially like the team’s approach to ambient cabin lighting, and an interior with “creviceless” surfaces—because in the future, when you’re sharing vehicle ownership with others, you won’t want your valuables getting stuck in seat rails. But what I dig most about this Apple Car is the augmented-reality dashboard experience.

apple car interior motortrend Motortrend

The editors at Mototrend have imagined a fascinating vision of what a data-driven Apple Car cockpit might look like.

Note the navigation prompts at the top of the windshield (which, by the way, is made of “thin automotive Gorilla Glass”). Note how pedestrians are outlined as targets for an autonomous driving system to avoid. As Motortrend explains, “Their purpose is to give the occupants confidence that the car sees them rather than acting as driver alerts.”

Is any of this augmented-reality vision practical or even likely? I don’t know. But I love just speculating. Many, many years ago, when I was running the now-defunct Mac|Life, that magazine’s editorial team went through a similar Apple Car exercise, and came up with a vision for an iCar. We imagined an Apple partnership with Audi, and aside from then-state-of-the-art iOS integration in the dashboard, the special iCar edition of the Audi TT was mostly about a merger of visual design DNA.

icar maclife

Dig the Apple logo on the wheels, and how illustrator Adam Benton tweaked the Audi logo on the front grille. The Mac|Life iCar had nowhere near the engineering investment of the Motortrend Apple Car... but it sure looked a hell of a lot better.

Again, you really need to check out Motortrend’s image galleries to see what I mean. What do you think of their vision? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Jon Phillips

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