It’s less than a week since The Wall Street Journal broke some big news on a topic that has been rumored for quite some time—Apple is building a car. In just a few short days, the story, which has been picked up and speculated on by every blogger and talkinghead imaginable, is so ready to break the internet, Kim K. is no doubt jealously shopping another nude pictorial as I write this.
Apple tapped Steve Zadesky, a former Ford automotive engineer who oversaw the creation of the first iPod and iPhone, to lead what the company is internally calling “Project Titan.” Like with every rumored new Apple product, from the iPad to the TV that has never seemed to materialize, speculation abounds about what this next big thing will be, and what it won’t be; what it will look like, or what it has the potential to become. The Apple Car has the tech and automotive worlds all hot and bothered.
But not me.
For me, this brings back memories of a not-so-distant time. I’m speaking of an era where my smartphone had a million tiny buttons on its face, and a little red light that unobtrusively blinked when my attention was required. Yes, I’m referring to the BlackBerry days.
I loved my Berry, and held its Meghan Trainor-type frame tight every time someone suggested I switch over to the hottest iPhone model du jour. Sure, each iteration of the revolutionary Apple device was sexier than the last. Each version came to market with displays and functionality that made my Bold seem not just like a clunky dinosaur, but a downright antiquated fossil. Part of my reluctance to switch was stubbornness, yes, but it ran deeper than that.
Early iPhones, like the latest sold today, lack a true user connection. There’s something especially inorganic about using this rectangle of glass and plastic. Isn’t that all phones though? Not quite, and I attribute this, in large part, to the lack of a physical keyboard. That tangible set of buttons that first clicked, then evolved to gentle thuds, with every letter entered created a man-machine bond to this digital device. Yes, Apple long tried to bridge this gulf between the physical and digital worlds by clinging to its skeuomorphic software design, replete with faux-leather and wood, but it killed the tactile hardware interface that diehard BlackBerry lovers like myself still miss, and know touchscreen devices can’t deliver. That may sound petty, but it’s not the only example of the iPhone alienating its users. Even back in the day, RIM’s predictive text worked spectacularly—to the point I felt a true love connection like Joaquin Phoenix in Her. Years later, my current iPhone 5 still doesn’t get that I want to write "Yo”, not “to”. I could go on.
And there’s your spoiler alert. Yes, I did eventually make the switch, but only because my Berry decided it was going to randomly erase random gobs of data I really needed. The iPhone has never failed me in that respect (though it may unwittingly give away tons of my data), but we still have not formed that true man-machine bond.
And that’s exactly what I fear about the Apple car; that it will never be my friend. Only Zadesky and team truly know what the finished product will be, but I can make some pretty solid assumptions. It will be a plug-in and will do what traditional brands like GM wish to do, but probably won’t, by truly taking it to Tesla on the electric car front. Hell, there are even industry analysts already predicting a Tesla buyout by Apple (though I don’t think Elon Musk’s ego will ever let that happen). It will have at least some degree of driving autonomy, which will rapidly progress with each model year—eventually making it the new standard for self-driving cars. It will have a bold, slightly quirky look, and take “the internet of things” to a whole new level, interfacing with everything from your phone, to your thermostat, to your refrigerator.
I know there will be a chorus of people decrying me as some sort of luddite yelling at you damn kids to get off my lawn with your newfangled toys. But I know I will miss the visceral connection I feel toward a car. Apple’s version will not be one that you give a name to, or the one you hop in and pound through its gears when you’ve had a rough day at work. No, the Apple car will never be your friend; it will be an appliance. A marvelous, technologically astounding “Look what I can do!” type of appliance, that will—despite a lack of true driving fun, enjoyment, or passion—accomplish a whitewashing takeover of driveways and garages all over this world.
Oh who am I kidding? I’ll probably end up with one too. Maybe I’ll go crazy and get mine in gold.