»Hardly any real innovation of the object itself«

Thoughts on Apple Car, Part 73

Michael Schmidt
May 20, 2017 · 5 min read

Austrian-born Apple designer Julian Hönig talked to Austrian newspaper Der Standard in May.

The topic was cars, and he cut right to the chase:

»The biggest problem is that the car as an object has basically remained the same for over 100 years. It has four wheels, an engine in the front and a steering wheel for the driver.«

»Strictly speaking there has hardly been any real innovation of the object itself.«

»The lack of innovation is primarily rooted in the big car markers’ reluctance to change car design fundamentally. Without fundamental change, however, it is impossible to bring about something that is truly new.«

So here’s a seven-year Apple ID team member talking very openly about the wrongs of today’s car world. Obviously it struck a chord with me because he challenges the very same basic principles about cars as I did when starting this series.

Hönig goes on saying that the car concept he likes best was VW’s 2002 Minibus concept:

That’s not far off the other Apple Car design inspiration clues we have found so far:

It sums up the broad variety of car design influences currently in Apple ID:


Back to Hönig.

What makes his comments interesting (read the whole piece with Google translate) is his background and previous work for Lamborghini and especially Audi.

Hönig designed the outstanding RSQ which was featured in the movie i-Robot:


Here’s to the obsession with doors

What makes this concept unique is not its outer appearance. It’s the wheels, or rather say spheres.

Hönig designed the RSQ with magneto spheres, which are ball-shaped wheels that would go any direction thanks to sophisticated engineering.

Here’s a student description:

People in the auto business have been playing with this thought quite some time. Eventually, a 360 degree spinning wheels would require way less space for parking and other manouvres.

However, I expect them to be quintessential to self-driving cars. The experience inside an autonomous car is much more seamless, when the vehicle doesn’t have to face the direction of driving all the time. See my thoughts on the wheel architecture (combined with superior suspension) that would enable a leapfrog car experience:

In my discussions with Stefan, we also looked at spheres or ball-shaped solutions. However, they can never be as good when it comes to suspension. And the circular shaped is not needed – although it helps everybody to understand the wheels’ change in behavior.

That’s why we went with „traditional“ wheels:

Still, there’s another company in the auto business thinking about this: Goodyear. The tyre maker offers their own look at what they expect to change in their discipline:

They also did a video:

OK, now what?

Let’s sum up what we have heard so far:

  1. Hönig thinks the fundamentals of car design need to change.
  2. He refers to the Minibus as an exciting concept.
  3. His wheel design could be thought of fundamental, but leaves questions.

And the question really comes down to this:

  • When cars as objects change from being vehicles to rooms…
  • …you want that room to be as big a possible (Minibus)…
  • …and you wouldn’t want to waste space on huge ball-shaped wheels…
  • …right?

I think the design team at Apple got their priorities straight. The people with auto background in the team have no interest in doing what they did before. There is something in the air that the car is the ultimate design challenge, especially at today’s turning point for the industry. And some of them, including Jony, might see this as coming full circle in their career.

From a TIME interview:

It was his teenage love of cars that made Ive decide to become a designer.


You can tell I’m excited.

Thoughts on Apple Car

Conceptualizations on the future car, a.o. shared by former Apple executive Jean-Louis Gassée, Apple/Google/Dropbox designer Ryhan Hassan, Lyft and Snap VC investor Alex Giannikoulis, Wristly founder Bernard Desarnauts, and CaminaLab/Drivania/Shotl founder Gerard Martret.

Michael Schmidt

Written by

Director Consulting at Virtual Identity. I spent a decade on automotive brands in digital, and blog about brand strategy, #ubx and #AppleCar / #ProjectTitan.

Thoughts on Apple Car

Conceptualizations on the future car, a.o. shared by former Apple executive Jean-Louis Gassée, Apple/Google/Dropbox designer Ryhan Hassan, Lyft and Snap VC investor Alex Giannikoulis, Wristly founder Bernard Desarnauts, and CaminaLab/Drivania/Shotl founder Gerard Martret.