Jony Ive’s Apple Car Prototype Had No Steering Wheel

Apple Car Concept 4 Credit: Alex Imnadze / Behance
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Apple dropped a bomb yesterday with the new shocking news that Apple legend Sir Jony Ive — the man behind over 20 years of Apple’s iconic designs — will be leaving the company. In the aftermath of this stunning reveal, we’re also now starting to hear more about some of the more secretive work that Ive did at Apple which hasn’t seen the light of day before now.

One of the more interesting revelations is that Jony Ive had an ultra-futuristic, design-focused vision for what will eventually become the Apple Car. While Apple’s ambitions for a self-driving vehicle have taken a winding and sometimes torturous path over the years, the company now seems to be back on track to release a car between 2023 and 2025. When Apple first began the project, however, there were a lot of different ideas about what the Apple Car should look like, and Ive’s was perhaps among the most ambitious.

Ive’s Vision for the Apple Car

According to The Information, Ive came up with several early prototypes for the Apple Car, including one that would be made entirely out of wood and leather, and that at his insistence would not include a steering wheel. Instead, what Ive envisioned was a vehicle that would be controlled entirely by Siri. According to the report, Ive actually demonstrated the concept to Apple CEO Tim Cook by having an actress positioned nearby who pretended to be Siri, responding to voice commands from Apple executives.

It’s unclear how far Apple ran with this idea, or if it was even taken seriously, but it’s another example of Ive’s visionary approach to design — the same uncompromising approach that has resulted in some of Apple’s most amazing products, created by pushing engineering teams to step up to meet the goals of the design teams. Although this approach hasn’t been without its casualties, it’s also produced devices like the iPhone and the iPad — absolutely magical intersections of design and technology that were ahead of their time.

The Writing on the Wall

Included among other projects that Ive worked on were the Apple television set that never quite made it into a shipping product, as well as early prototypes of the Apple Watch, which later fell under the purview of Apple Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams. As a result of this project, Ive ended up working closely with Williams for several years, according to an internal memo from Apple CEO Tim Cook recently obtained by BuzzFeed News.

As many of you know, Jony and Jeff have been close collaborators and partners for many years. In particular, Jeff’s leadership in developing Apple Watch brought together a cross-organizational team, unprecedented in scope, to produce Apple’s most personal device ever. This is what Apple does at its best: elevating a category beyond its imagined limits, and revealing how a single device can be so much more than the sum of its parts.

Apple CEO Tim Cook, in an internal memo to employees

The Information also confirmed an earlier report by Bloomberg that Ive has actually had one foot out of the door of Apple for several years now, so the writing of Ive’s sudden departure seems to have been on the wall for anybody who has been paying close attention. Apple has lost several key members of its design team in the past three years, and Apple’s more iterative approach to design in recent years has certainly led to speculation that Ive has been “phoning it in” lately — perhaps not surprising as the erstwhile Chief Design Officer has put all of his focus on Apple’s recently-finished Apple Park Campus.

Following the debut of the Apple Watch in 2015, Ive admitted in an interview with The New Yorker that he was becoming “deeply, deeply tired” and later began divesting himself of many of his day-to-day responsibilities over Apple’s hardware and software products, assigning them to to two of his lieutenants.

This has been a long time in the making. He’s been at Apple over 25 years, and it’s a really taxing job. It’s been an extremely tense 25 years for him at Apple and there’s a time for everyone to slow down.

Instead, it was becoming clear that Ive was feeling the need to stretch his wings beyond consumer electronics products, and the shift into architectural design for the Apple Park Campus was likely the breath of fresh air that he needed, and perhaps even kept him at Apple longer than he would have remained otherwise.

While Ive’s departure signals a massive changing of the guard at Apple — a move second only to Steve Jobs’ departure and subsequent passing in 2011 — sources close to the design teams have suggested that it may not be a huge shakeup in the short term, as Apple’s designers have been operating with only partial input from Ive for a few years now. Further, since Ive and his team have always designed for the longer term, chances are we’ll still see a few years of Ive-inspired designs coming out of Apple before the full ramifications of his departure are felt.

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