James Baggott: Put Apple’s ethos at the core of car design to sweeten our lives

Time 6:41 am, May 1, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-05-01 at 09.33.13I’M A bit of an Apple fan. And by ‘a bit’ I mean I ‘may’ have been known to queue up outside an Apple Store for the latest phone at ridiculous times in the morning.

I may have a few (lots) of old Macs on display in my office, a display dubbed The Steve Jobs Shrine by colleagues. Oh, and I may get more excited about buying new Apple equipment for new staff than I do about the amount they’ll ease the strain.

My loyalty to the fruity temple extends to many other walks of life, too. Like I’ll be ever so slightly disappointed when someone gets out their new Android phone. And then I usually laugh a little too loudly when they tell me it’s broken six weeks later. I saw a mate the other day and he’d bought a Samberry or something and three weeks later was still working out how to use it. ‘I turned on airplane mode the other day and couldn’t turn it off for half an hour,’ he said, as I laughed so hard I spat coffee all over the windscreen.

Am I the only one that hates sending green texts instead of iMessages? And I’m sure they work (sometimes) and are cheap (they look it) but when students bring in Windows-based laptops to the office I’ve considered asking them to work in reception so I don’t have to look at the Fisher-Price lumps of plastic. We need to reprogram our phones in the office and the only way to do it is with Windows-based software. The rant that followed me being given this information was so long, so rambling and so littered with swear words that anyone walking in halfway through would have thought someone had just stolen my car.

I’ll be the first to admit my Apple addiction borders on an obsession – but it’s an obsession that’s born of need. A need for things to work properly, to function as they should when purchased and with a minimum amount of fuss.

Remember the days when you bought a new phone – those dark days pre-iPhone when you looked at football results on WAP (after 12 minutes downloading) and took pictures that were so bad you’d have been better off sketching them with charcoal on a fag packet? Or what about those difficult times when you needed to read a ‘manual’ to work out how to turn the phone on?

When Apple’s killer products arrived, manual printers the world over went bust. You see Apple doesn’t ship kit with a weighty book to tell you how to do things, you just sort of know. Even my 70-year-old dad knew how to operate his iPhone when he finally took the plunge and decided to ‘get with it’. That sort of brilliance of design isn’t something to be sniffed at – these devices we keep in our pockets are complicated, but the difference with Apple is that they don’t feel complicated.

Which, some 500 words later, brings me around to the subject of cars. Apple’s design guru Jonathan Ive – a talented Brit – is the man who, alongside the late Steve Jobs, is responsible for some of the most life-changing Apple products you’re probably using right now. His genius makes them usable, functional and beautiful. But what if he’d taken his first choice of career and become a car designer?

Apple created a standard human-machine interface that’s yet to be bettered. Many have tried to imitate it, but none has succeeded in mirroring its simple iOS – and there’s nowhere that simplicity could be more useful than inside a car. Step into two models in the same class from rival manufacturers and they might as well have been designed on different planets. They’re needlessly complicated.

The car industry desperately needs a standard interface; a software system that’s simple, easy to use, familiar even. Why should connecting your phone be so hard to do in some cars yet so easy in others? Wouldn’t it be nice if your music just played through the speakers?

Or putting a destination into the sat nav always let you use a postcode?

At last we’re taking steps towards that holy grail. Apple announced CarPlay at the Geneva Motor Show – a system that will bring its simple software to the likes of Ferrari, Volvo and Mercedes. I gave it a go and it looks and works fantastically. The sooner this clever tech is rolled out to every car manufacturer – and better still, offered retrospectively for older models – the better. Maybe Jony Ive can still turn his hand to car design after all… and kill off the ever-bloating car handbook in the process.

James Baggott's avatar

James is the founder and editor-in-chief of Car Dealer Magazine, and CEO of parent company Baize Group. James has been a motoring journalist for more than 20 years writing about cars and the car industry.

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