To understand why it would be a bad idea for Jonathan Ive to design a car, you just have to look at the concept vehicle developed for Ford by his friend and now colleague at Apple, Marc Newson, back in 1999.
The Ford o21C was the automobile equivalent of the iMac, a colourful, rounded retooling of a familiar form, only without the practicality. When the latest rumors that Apple is working on a car began, lots of observers were quick to point to it as a starting point for speculation.
But the o21C would be awful to look at and just as awful to drive if it had actually rolled off the lines. It was a designer’s idle daydream, not something built to actually cope with the reality of the roads. It looks more like a discarded sketch from ‘The Jetsons’ than a realistic vision of modern motoring.
Why go on about Newson’s old projects when it’s Ive who’s more likely to drive – pun intended – any putative car design effort in Apple? Because he and Newson attend the Goodwood Festival of Speed together each summer and are pegged as “car guys…disappointed with most modern cars” in The New Yorker’s recently published Ive profile.
I don’t think it’s a great stretch to surmise that Newson and Ive share similar visions of what cars should and shouldn’t be. The Apple design boss’s current ride is a Bentley Mulsanne, a hulking high-performance limousine. He also owns an Aston Martin DB4. One’s a car to be driven in and the other’s a car you take out for drives.
Ive’s comment in the same New Yorker piece, when confronted with the odious affront of an ordinary Toyota Yaris – badged as an Echo in the US – speaks to his car snobbery: “There are some shocking cars on the road. One person’s car is another person’s scenery.” Another way of putting that might be: most people have to buy cars for their utility, not their aesthetics.
Asked by Ian Parker, who wrote the New Yorker profile, to critique the Toyota, Ive says: “It’s baffling, isn’t it? It’s just nothing, isn’t it? It’s just insipid.” Later in the article, we’re privy to his weary disgust at another Apple executive choosing to drive an old Toyota Camry.
Knowing what we do about Ive’s design philosophy and way of seeing the world, it’s likely he’d argue that cars don’t need to be as ugly as they are, that manufacturers aren’t trying hard enough to build something beautiful. But car designers operate with even more constraints than he has had to so far. Mistakes can easily turn a car from a form of transport into a weapon.
Ive tells The New Yorker that he chose the Bentley for “entirely design-based” reasons and was put off by the other connotations. I don’t believe him. His dislike for those Toyotas and love for Bentley and Aston Martin are not disconnected from the brands and the prestige that comes with them. The man who put millions of glowing Apples on Starbucks tables is not immune to branding himself.
While Ive wouldn’t give us something identical to Newson’s vision for Ford, I can’t imagine him making a vehicle with the widespread appeal of the iPhone. His inner car snob just wouldn’t let him create this generation’s Volkswagen Beetle. If Apple make a car under Ive’s supervision, it will be far from a people’s car.
Image credits: Ford Motor Company/Marc Newson, Bentley Motors, Toyota Motor Corporation