Getting serious about the interior

Thoughts on Apple Car, Part 128

From Above Avalon:

Apple recently hired Andrew Kim, a senior designer at Tesla focused most recently on the Model 3 interior. He started his career at Microsoft, working on HoloLens and Xbox One S. In 2016, he left Microsoft to join Tesla in order to focus on car interiors.
In 2017, Kim talked about his Microsoft to Tesla move:
»Cars now, more than ever, are becoming more electronic – more product like.
Once the steering wheel and pedals disappear, you’re designing a room more than vehicle.
The ideas behind a car are shifting so for me it was a very good fit to come in.
Having worked on Windows 10 UI systems, designing consoles, and HoloLens, I’m applying those methods of thinking to an automobile.«
In my view, Apple likely hired Kim for Project Titan with a focus on car interiors and different user interfaces.
As for what this news means for Project Titan, there is nothing too surprising or shocking here. It’s been clear for years that Apple wants to one day design its own vehicles.
The big question found with Project Titan has been how a human will interact with such a vehicle (i.e. autonomous or computer assisted driving). While Kim’s hire doesn’t necessarily provide us answers to this question, it does suggest that Apple is looking for new ideas when it comes to envisioning rooms on wheels.
Doug Field’s move from Tesla to Apple earlier this year told me Apple may be coming close to restarting, or maybe we should say, reemphasizing, Project Titan’s hardware apparatus. Kim’s hiring from Tesla is another piece of evidence in support of a new hardware phase taking shape within Titan.

Kim’s design aesthetic is minimalism.

Kim maintained his Minimally Minimal blog for years. It’s difficult not seeing some connections with his interests around products and why things were designed a certain way with stories from other Apple industrial designers, including Jony.

Here are excerpts of this blog, from a series of posts on cars. The most interesting comments Kim made are on the Nissan Cube.

»The best metaphor of the Cube is that it’s a living room on wheels. That might sound very unappealing to auto enthusiasts but I find it to be a fascinating proposition. Driving is a fun activity. Driving in the city is not. The Cube is a comforting car for city driving. Makes sense to me.«

Note how Kim echoes the sentiment that driving sucks. At least in the city. I’d argue that driving in the city is stressful and driving on the countryside is boring. His conclusion is that cars like the Cube make the experience more comfortable because they are designed more like a living room.

What makes a living room enjoyable is space and coziness. In car terms this is done with how the seats and cushions feel, and how head room is experienced:

»Head room is where the Cube really shines. Now every other car I ride feels claustrophobic.«

This will make a difference to any previous car once vehicles come along that have been designed primarily for self-driving use cases, that are designed around the user experience in such cars.

It will make a difference in a way that you’d notice little things which didn’t bother you in a normal car. Like wind noise:

»The vertical windscreen produces plenty of wind noise and the side mirrors make a whistling noise.«

Good thing self-driving cars don’t need side mirrors. But vertical windows will be around, and they represent a tough industrial design challenge to be solved.

I noticed something similar when driving the Tesla Model S. With its electric motor, you don’t find any of the usual engine noise, even at higher speed. But what you’ll suddenly hear is wind noise. It’s a sound that’s also there in regular cars of course, but there it is mixed with the (much louder) engine noise. If you leave the engine out, you end up with noise from the wheels rolling on the asphalt, and wind noise.

It’s something that will heavily impact the UX of a self-driving car. Aerodynamics, and the way windows are sized and built, both will need to be solved around the silence requirement.

I discussed aerodynamics, head room, and acoustics in the following 3 articles:

Also don’t miss my discussion of an interview with Apple ID team member Julian Hoenig: