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BMW/MINI AR glasses

How Glasses make sense in a Car context

Thoughts on Apple Car, Part 118

In an article about possible Apple Glasses a year ago, Neil Cybart concluded:

It is certainly plausible that Apple Glasses have become Apple’s most likely new major product category, even ahead of any Apple transportation initiative. It is no longer a question of if Apple will sell its own AR glasses, but when.

A year has passed without product introduction, so we all have to set our expectations back to a more realistic 2019 date for an eventual Glasses launch, and 2020/2021 for a Car.

Still, I am convinced that Apple wouldn’t release a new product ahead of the Car that wouldn’t make sense in combination with the Car—even if it launches at a later stage. The Watch must make sense, Glasses must make sense.

So how do Glasses go with the Car?

Let’s start with design: Jony Ive brought Marc Newson on board to design Apple Watch. Will it be the only gig? Probably not. Newson designed eyewear and cars before, so he is a prime suspect not only to be involved in both projects, but to make sense of them in combination.

In a 2015 interview with the Wall Street Journal, he said:

“Whatever I design, it’s always a problem-solving exercise. You’re trying to troubleshoot something,” said Mr. Newson. “Ultimately I become a sort of gun for hire.”

The problem – besides solving transportation – is answering how Apple product lines would make sense compared to each other.

Phil Schiller gave it a shot talking to Steven Levy:

“The job of the watch is to do more and more things on your wrist so that you don’t need to pick up your phone as often.”
“The job of the phone is to do more and more things such that maybe you don’t need your iPad, and it should be always trying and striving to do that.”
“The job of the iPad should be to be so powerful and capable that you never need a notebook. Like, why do I need a notebook? I can add a keyboard! I can do all these things!”
“The job of the notebook is to make it so you never need a desktop, right? It’s been doing this for a decade.”
“[The job of the Mac] is to challenge what we think a computer can do, and do things that no computer has ever done before – [it should] be more and more powerful and capable so that we need a desktop because of its capabilities.”

Apply this theory to the Glasses:

The job of the glasses is to make you less distracted, so you wouldn’t need to glance down onto your watch as often.

And to the Car:

The job of the Car is to challenge what we think a vehicle can do, and do things that no car has ever done before.

Back to Marc Newson.

In that same WSJ interview, Newson answered the two last questions with:

If I had $50,000 to spare, I’d: blow it all on a repair job for one of my old cars. I started to collect cars about four years ago. Before, I was just accumulating them. My favorite is a Ferrari from 1955 or a Bugatti from 1929.

So he started to collect cars in 2011, when Steve Jobs was still around and was already pondering the question whether to go into the car space.

Newson‘s answer to the other question:

My design pet-peeve is: the automotive industry. There were moments when cars somehow encapsulated everything that was good about progress. But right now we’re at the bottom of a trough.

He is right, and makes the same point I did with number one of my Apple Car beliefs:

The two photos above illustrate this bottom of trough situation.

How is that different to the eyewear industry?

Again, in 2010, as Steve Jobs was visiting V-Vehicle, a new startup revolutionized the eyeglass retail space. Warby Parker was founded amd funded in Wharton School – the place I visited in 2011 when Marc Newson began collecting cars – and skyrocketed to a $1.2bn valuation by 2015 (when Apple Watch launched and Newson gave the WSJ interview).

The glasses market is huge and it’s open to disruption, as seen with Warby Parker on the distribution, product logistics and marketing side. JAND Inc. however, the company behind Warby Parker, did not reimagine glasses.

Someone else will.

So, how do we bring those two together?

  1. Glasses which make you less distracted, so you wouldn’t need to glance down onto your watch or phone as often.
  2. And the Car, which has to challenge what we think a vehicle can do, and do things that no car has ever done before.

Many think the answer is in AR – the core technology to any future product if you believe Tim Cook and other tech leaders.

Augmented, or enhanced reality would on one hand do to eyewear what Apple Watch did to wristwatches. There would be no turning back.

On the other hand it can also be the core interface technology of the future car. As I argued multiple times, Apple Car would be heavy on voice (Siri) and mixed reality (ARkit).

The way Neil Cybart discribed an initial AR product – like Glasses – was that it would work more like a heads-up display than an immersive headset.

Sounds about right, and also what BMW had in mind with their idea of smart goggles:

You can imagine that smart glasses would improve the driving experience even with normal cars.

Even more so, they would make sense in an autonomous vehicles world: You‘d summon a car with any device but also with your glasses, would get notified when it arrives, would be identified using eye tracking and FaceID, and when you get out you will receive point-to-point navigation for walking to your final destination.

Glasses can make sense in the car, even though the two things are not intertwined. But what Apple product is?

Finally, this leads me to a whole other question:

How would both Glasses and a Car fit into Apple‘s product line?

I scratched on the surface of this question when I discussed the size and weight comparison of Apple’s product family – including Apple Car:

However, that’s not the whole story and certainly not the way Apple management is thinking about it.

There may be another mental model to understand their future grand unified theory (copyright Steven Levy) of Apple products.

Look at what happened over the last decades:

The stationary Mac, the portable Mac, the portable iPod, iPhone and iPad; the wearable Watch and AirPods, …

Apple is moving closer to the body.

It not only makes sense from a hardware point of view: Desktop, laptop, handphone, earphones, wristwatch, eyeglasses.

It also makes sense from a software and services perspective: Apple’s health and fitness initiatives, the way they market music because it moves us. The way Jony Ive embraces wireless wearables:

Glasses would be another way to get closer to our body, our minds, really.

They will be wireless, of course. They may be companions to the watch, much like the watch was a companion to iPhone, and the iPhone and iPod a companion to the Mac/iTunes.

So, how does the car fit into this thread of approaching a skin-deep relationship with Apple’s customers?

Well, it encapsulates us.

It’s all around us, it’s not just the things we see and the sound we hear, it’s the air we breathe and the feeling we have.

It’s the ultimate experience.

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