There’s been plenty of iChat recently about the possible development of an iCar, a joint venture between Apple and German carmaker Volkswagen. The idea, and there’s nothing really new about this, is to create both an entertainment and office environment on four wheels. Never mind the gridlock; just grab the opportunity to be productive or pacified by your favourite music or TV program.
Apple is keen to jump on the automotive infotainment freeway and grab a piece of the e30 million pie that’s predicted for this sector by 2012. And who can blame them. No surprise, then, that Apple boss Steve Jobs and Volkswagen chief Hr. Winkerton have been meeting up over this idea.
So will the iCar be a runner? My view is the idea has some concept-crunching flaws.
Firstly, Apple and Volkswagen have been a bit slow off the grid. Ford and Microsoft, and BMW and Intel, are already way ahead with the Ford infotainment system called Sync, which is shaping up for launch before the end of the year.
But for me, the main problem with the Apple Volkswagen iCar is I don’t really see the two companies as compatible partners. How so?
Well, I started my career as a design engineer with Ford and I know how cautious—to the point of corporate paranoia—carmakers are about product reliability. All carmakers know what a huge financial drain and imagewrecking nightmare vehicle recalls can become if cars fail. Carmakers want electronics components and systems that will prove reliable for at least three- or maybe five-year warranty periods.
So exactly why would a conservative carmaker like Volkswagen, with its reputation for build quality and reliability, want to team up with Apple? Apple has, in the past, supplied products that whilst innovative and certainly aspirational in the eyes of the younger generation, develop reliability problems in not much longer than a year. How many iPod owners do you know who are experiencing problems?
The point here is that after about 18 months, an iPod user is probably willing to spend whatever the cost is on the latest model and isn’t overly enraged about product failure. Can we say the same of a car owner who has invested maybe e20,000? iDon’t think so.