The Car's "iPhone" Moment

Neil Cybart of Above Avalon absolutely kills it with this article. To me, this is the definitive article to read to understand why the car will be a big space in innovation from now on.

This insight, perhaps the crux of modern car design’s problems, is particularly striking:


"While it may seem like one of the most boring parts found in a car, the seat represents the biggest barrier to rethinking the car. If a company can rethink the car seat, our perception of a car will change, and ultimately, the entire auto industry will be impacted. The car seat is the car's version of the smartphone hardware keyboard.

Seats play the largest role in our in-car experience. Everything from how we feel to where we are looking and what we are doing is determined by a car seat. Given these important roles, it is shocking that the car seat has seen very little change over the years, as depicted in the following pictures."


His comparison of the car seat to the hardware keyboard is absolutely spot on. Once we can get rid of our preconceived notions of how car seats should be laid out inside a car, we can start to picture a car as a “room on wheels” as Cybart puts it.

The exciting part is that not many radical ideas and concepts have floated around in the mainstream thinking of what car interiors and seat layouts could look like in the future. The same can be said about the iPhone - who would’ve thought to remove all but one of the physical buttons from a phone’s front? How many phone designs that were similarly derivative had circulated up to the point of the iPhone’s introduction?

Cybart speculates the car’s version of the software keyboard will take the form of custom seat layouts:


"By no longer thinking of seats as stationary benches facing forward, we can begin to come up with a way of creating different experiences inside a car based on our mood or merely the time of day…

What if there was a way to create a certain kind of car compartment layout for one situation but then be able to switch layouts with an iPhone or even Apple Watch? Or how about creating a seating arrangement on our iPhone for one car, saving it, and then loading that same arrangement in a different car? The way we perceive a car will change. Instead of being just a box on wheels, the car will become a room on wheels."


This is where I become more skeptical. I think first should come a new seat layout that’s still far from what we’re accustomed to in mainstream cars, but fixed to the car like seats are today.

Making layouts customisable off the bat could prove to be overwhelming for consumers, especially if technology at the time can’t make the process of moving from one layout to another fully automated, thus requiring some amount of manual (read: frustrating) input from the user, an automatic step down from today’s experience.

Still, Cybart’s premise stands. Before the iPhone, phone companies would always design around the keyboard rather than create more fundamental changes between models and updates. The car’s version of that is most definitely the car seat. With the driving experience becoming more automated and infused with software features, comes the catalyst for more fundamental changes with the car seat.

I think his piece will be profoundly predictive of future-facing car models from Tesla and co., especially once a company (my bets are on Apple) finally takes on the car’s biggest design opportunities.

(Via Above Avalon)