Materials for a car
We have discussed the product design of Apple Car from a number of POVs so far, but still missing is one of the core design principles of Apple: Innovating with the nature of materials.
Here’s Jony Ive in a 2014 NYT interview on materials:
»Deep in the culture of Apple is this sense and understanding of design, developing and making.«
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And from a recent 2016 CNET interview about the new Macbook Pros:
I feel very strongly that you cannot separate form from material, from the process that forms the material. Those have to be developed incredibly coherently and together. Which means that you can’t design in a way that’s disconnected from how you make [a product]. So that’s one important relationship.
We spent huge amounts of time just [on] material exploration. We explore a whole range of different materials, a whole range of different processes. I think you’ll be surprised at how sophisticated the conclusions we would take those explorations to.
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Ive and Apple’s ID team have been pushing the boundaries of materials in pretty much every major product line, most notably the Unibody break-through with Macbook Air – a process that made possible the iPad and Apple Watch.
Introducing Unibody was also the only time Jony Ive personally came on stage during a product launch press event:
So, let’s take a look at what role materials would play in Apple Car – using this guiding thought of Jony from said interview:
»Form and the material and process – they are beautifully intertwined – completely connected.«
Ever since the opening of the first Apple Store in 2001 and the development of the iPhone leading up to its launch in 2007, Steve Jobs and Jony Ive fell in love with glass. This material was substantial to the rigidity of all iOS products, and it led to the rise of smartphone and tablet supplier Corning with its Gorilla Glass product.
Legendary now, glass production for iPhone was done only a few months prior to its introduction:
„[Jobs] said he wanted as much gorilla glass as Corning could make within six months.’We don’t have the capacity,’ Weeks replied. ‘None of our plants make the glass now.’
‘Don’t be afraid,’ Jobs replied. This stunned Weeks, who was good-humored and confident but not used to Jobs’ reality distortion field. He tried to explain that a false sense of confidence would not overcome engineering challenges, but that was a premise that Jobs had repeatedly shown he didn’t accept. He stared at Weeks unblinking. ‘Yes, you can do it,’ he said. ‘Get your mind around it. You can do it.“
As Weeks retold this story, he shook his head in astonishment. ‘We did it in under six months,’ he said. ‘We produced a glass that had never been made.’ Corning’s facility in Harrisburg, Kentucky, which had been making LCD displays, was converted almost overnight to make gorilla glass full-time. ‘We put our best scientists and engineers on it, and we just made it work.’ In his airy office, Weeks has just one framed memento on display. It’s a message Jobs sent the day the iPhone came out: ‘We couldn’t have done it without you.’“
Up until today, glass is a key component for all Apple products (now in Macbooks also).
Looking at Apple Car though, it’s clear that glass would play an even bigger role – in footprint, but also in product requirements (e.g. safety).
In terms of size, a good example of how Apple handles glass is to look again at Apple Stores, and Apple’s new headquarters. The company has been a pioneer of curved glass, and is the biggest client of German supplier Sedak.
Also, glass can become smarter – as new technology allows transparent solar panels (another area where Apple pioneers, and an interesting component for an electric car) which look just like glass:
So, we can be sure that Glass will be a key component for an Apple Car product.
The most natural component that would make sense in Apple Car is wood. Why? Wood isn’t used in any other Apple product!
True, but if you look at Apple Stores as just another (highly successful) product, there’s is substantial experience with the material in the company.
Second, much like stores, Apple Car is as much a tech interface as it is a room to be in.
And wood has some unbeatable attributes when it comes to comfort, acoustics, and atmosphere for interior rooms.
Look at is this way: Apple chose to use wood to display all of its products. It not only makes a good visual contrast, it’s also a great natural-feel physical environment for using their products.
Apple Car will be a product in which other Apple products will be used (heavily). This is a first.
We now know that Apple showed some interest in how BMW manufacture their BMWi series using carbon fibre. This suggests that Apple is looking for expertise outside the company.
However, evidence of deep understanding of carbon fibre are elsewhere to be found: The full-circle roof of the future event space inside Apple Campus 2 is made of carbon fibre (see above).
It’s not only a large-scale piece of engineering, it’s also the roof to the very event space where Apple Car is expected to be introduced.
Carbon fibre has the advantage that it’s very lightweight but at the same time very durable and stiff.
It’s just what an electric car needs.
Finally, let’s look at a material Apple started to seriously work with in the latest Apple Watch refresh – for many surprisingly so.
Ceramic is not only beautiful and feels great on skin (not without reason it’s been a luxury material for centuries), it also got characteristics that make it durable and small and thin sizes.
So we can imagine smaller, interactive appliances in Apple Car to be made of ceramic.
If there are any.
All in all, it’s a stretch to rumor about the materials used in a future Apple Car. The world’s top ID people are looking into this right now, and to close with Jony:
»Unless we understand a certain material – metal or resin and plastic – understanding the processes that turn it from ore, for example – we can never develop and define form that’s appropriate.«