Automobile Magazine’s longtime European correspondent Georg Kacher thinks the industry needs to refocus on building cars that serve the consumer, rather than ones that serve the industry. Kacher contends that that the current glut of increasingly unmanageable assistance systems and other electronics that’s being loaded onto cars has potential to actually be of benefit, but needs to be “masterminded from a higher vantage point.”
“We must rethink the way we build cars,” Kacher mused in a recent rare article about himself, on the occasion of his 60th birthday. “Maybe the next Apple product will be a very clever plastic car. Who knows??
Who indeed?, and maybe not so far-fetched “In an interview with The New York Times’ John Markoff not long before his death, Steve Jobs, noted that if he had more energy, he would’ve liked to take on Detroit with an Apple car.” Apple design chief Jonathan I’ve and Senior Vice President of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue Eddy Cue are noted automobile aficionados, and Mr. Cue, who incidentally is now in charge of Siri and Maps, is also a member of Ferrari’s Board of Directors.
During the Jobs II era at Apple, the notion of an Apple-branded — or at least Apple-themed — “iCar” automobile was dangled tantalizingly in front of crossover Apple and automobile enthusiasts. Apple is rumored to have had (perhaps even still has) a “secret internal department” skunk works at Cupertino specializing in transport-related product development, although it was never clear whether that meant car accessories, car information systems, or even a full blown iCar. Possibly all of the above — at least aspirationally.
What we do know is that at the 2013 Shanghai Auto Show (20th to 29th of April). last week, Volkswagen world premiered its new iBeetle model — the first VW with a newly-developed integrated iPhone docking station. The smartphone will interface with vehicle functions of the Beetle and Beetle Cabriolet via a specially developed app (Volkswagen Car Net The Beetle) and a docking station. This makes it the first model series of the Volkswagen Group in which the iPhone will become an integrative component.
Volkswagen will offer two different ways to acquire the innovative interface between iPhone and Beetle; first, as an optional feature, and second as a standard feature of the newly-conceptualized iBeetle and iBeetle Cabriolet models.
Volkswagen says it will be launching these special models to consumers in parallel with iPhone 5 integration at the beginning of 2014, with the related integration of the iPhone 4/4S in the Beetle and Beetle Cabriolet to precede it in early autumn 2013.
An Apple/VW collaboration like this one has been many years in the making, the courtship between the two iconic firms dating back to at least 2007 when Steve Jobs met with Volkswagen’s then-CEO Dr. Martin Winterkorn in California to exchange views on the potential for integrating the iPod, iPhone, and other Apple products into an automobile. Blogosphere speculation at the time suggested that possibly even an Apple/VW joint venture ‘iCar’ project was being discussed, but nothing observable came of it in the several years immediately following.
Why Volkswagen? Well, for one thing the Wolfsburg, Germany based firm demonstrated interest in some sort of collaboration. Steve Jobs, was a noted car enthusiast with a partiality for German marques, although typically Mercedes and Porsche in terms of his personal use. Porsche is now part of the Volkswagen group, along with VW, Audi, Bentley, SEAT, Skoda, Lamborghini, Bugatti, and MAN heavy duty trucks, but the premium sports ar maker was still,an indie firm at the time of the Jobs/Winterkorn meeting in 2007.
However, there’s been an indirect VW association with Apple since the tech company’s very beginning, when Steve Jobs sold his VW Microbus along with his HP scientific calculator back in 1976 in order to help raise the $1,300 he and Steve Wozniak needed to launch Apple Computer. So in a way, the VW Microbus was indirectly instrumental to the founding of the multinational company that eventually produced iPod, iPhone, and iPad, along with the Mac.
Given that VW microbus connection with Apple’s corporate genesis, it was appropriate that the first VW concept vehicle featuring advanced Apple idevice integration was a design exercise on the microbus theme. At the 2011 Geneva Auto Show, Volkswagen unveiled a serious reinterpretation of the legendary Microbus, launching it into the future in the form of a new generation Microbus — or “Bulli as it’s popularly referred to in Germany, which very appropriately given the history — was highly integrated with Apple’s iPad.
The Microbus/Bulli van concept shown at Geneva two years ago was powered by an electric motor, fitted with six seats, and featured infotainment control via, you guessed it, the iPad.
A removable iPad in the center console also served as a multifunctional touchscreen.
Along with Internet-based iPad applications and the media center, the iPad also handled control of such functions as Bluetooth hands-free telephone and the vehicle’s navigation system.
Integrated right on the van’s iPad mount were controls for the climate control system and the centrally-located hazard warning switch.
Still no sign of that concept becoming a production model yet, although it appeared to be practical and ready for market introduction — possibly with gasoline or diesel powered variants in addition to an EV model.
However, I expect that it will hit the market eventually. http://www.leftlanenews.com/volkswagen-routan-will-be-fleet-only-for-2013.html#rsS2gOmKJVtySZQl.99 LeftLane News reports that production of the VW Routan van, which is not really a VW at all but a badge-engineered clone of Chrysler’s Town & Country minivan built for Volkswagen by Chrysler and sold only in North America, was put on hiatus last June due to sluggish sales, with VW explaining in a press release that the company is not selling a 2013 model year Routan because based on the current sales rate, they have sufficient stock and orders placed for the 2012 model year to ensure that customer needs are met, and they are keeping their options open for the 2014 model year Routan.
Leftlane notes that Volkswagen has a contract with Chrysler for the American automaker to build the Routan through the 2014 model year, and that production will resume this summer to run out the contract, but for fleet sales only. It will no longer be offered to consumers, but a new seven-passenger crossover will be introduced to replace it. It will be interesting to see how much that vehicle resembles the 2011 Bulli concept, and how much idevice integration is included. However, it’s deemed more likely that the initial Routan replacement in 2015 will be more along the lines of the Volkswagen Crossblue Concept crossover/SUV displayed At the 2013 Detroit Auto Show. Volkswagen say they are weighing their options and examining seven passenger alternatives that would allow them to offer our customers a unique vehicle that “more closely aligns with our brand DNA.”
Make of that what you will. In the meantime, VW will be focusing on the iBeetle, and the debut of iPhone 5 integration via an integrative interface for the iPhone that was coordinated with Apple. The special model will be available as a Coupe and Cabriolet. Colors and equipment features of the iBeetle are stylistically linked to Apple design themes , bringing the icons of its smartphones into harmony with what is certainly one of the worlds most iconic automotive designs.
The iBeetle, which will be available at the beginning of 2014 (advance sales to begin in October 2013), will not just be delivered to its owners with the standard iPhone interface, but with other customized features as well. On the exterior, they include standard features such as 18-inch disc alloy wheels painted in Galvano Grey with chrome wheel covers, door mirror housings and side trim panels (above the sill) also in Galvano Grey, black door sill plates with iBeetle signature, iBeetle chrome badges (front fender in the area of the A-pillars) and a chrome pack (includes chrome trim strips on the sides). Harmonizing with products from Cupertino, the new iBeetle can be ordered in Candy White, Oryx White Mother of Pearl Effect, Black Monochrome, Deep Black Pearl Effect, Platinum Grey or Reflex Silver.
For the interior, the steering wheel accents are executed in Galvano Grey, which is also used for the horizontal instrument pad (the dash pad that typifies the Beetle). The iBeetle is also upgraded by a customized gear shift grip, black sport seats in exclusive Vienna leather and contrasting seams in light Ceramique.
Located centrally on the dashboard of the iBeetle is the car’s marquee feature iPhone docking station in which the handset is integrated with vehicle systems by simply snapping it in — similar to a mobile navigation system. VW says that essentially, all iPhone functions can be used in the iBeetle. The iPhone can be used to navigate, place telephone calls via a hands-free unit, listen to music from your iTunes library via the car audio system’s amplifier and loudspeakers, and more.
When The Beetle app is launched, it can either connect the iPhone to the Beetle when docked, or when it’s undocked — mode determined by the driver or front passenger . As soon as the iPhone connects to the data network of the Beetle via the app and the docking station, the app supplies a main menu with the following functions:
Spotify lets users stream media, eg: new songs, customized playlists or online radio stations, directly to the iPhone, and from there into the iBeetle’s sound system. Users who so desire can also post favourite music picks directly to friends. In addition, users in the iBeetle can switch between Spotify and iTunes at any time.
Under the Expert menu, the Beetle app offers five functions that incorporate the iPhone as an extended on-board instrument of the Beetle. Features include a G-Meter (for measuring lateral acceleration), oil and coolant temperature gauges for the engine, a chronometer and a compass.
The Trainer function can be used to compare driving times, distances and fuel economy values for different routes between any two destinations. Here too, tips can be posted via social networks like Twitter and Facebook, sharing information like which route is quicker to a particular destination.
The (social) Reader lists your latest messages from social networks like Facebook, and can read them aloud. Another communications functionality is provided by Postcard. Responding to a touchscreen command, the app sends the current location of the Beetle to friends as a digital postcard with a map motif and the ender identification: “Sent with the Beetle App.”
A photo can be taken from the iBeetle’s interior using the iPhone camera, and sent to social networks with the Photo function. Simply activate it, and the app does the rest. Likewise here, the sender identification is: “Sent with the Beetle App.”
In the undocked mode, the Milestones menu is available. Here the app rewards users with virtual milestone stickers for the Beetle when certain tasks have been completed, somewhat whimsically guiding users through a range of possible applications.
Volkswagen says it conceptualized the iBeetle for the debut of iPhone 5 integration, and it is one of the first cars in the world to have a genuine integrative interface for the iPhone that has been coordinated with Apple.
Evidently there’s to be more. Two apple patent filings last week indicate that Apple is actively pursuing the potential of the iOS mobile platform’s various wireless connectivity options, to enhance the capabilities of Bluetooth-equipped automobiles.
The abstract for United States Patent Application20130099892, ACCESSING A VEHICLE USING PORTABLE DEVICES describes a primary portable device that can access a vehicle by transmitting an activation message, including a vehicle access credential, to the vehicle. The primary portable device can additionally enable a secondary portable device to access the vehicle by transmitting the vehicle access credential to the secondary portable device. The connections between the primary portable device, secondary portable device, and vehicle can be based on a short-range wireless protocol, such as Bluetooth or Bluetooth LE.
The abstract for United States Patent Application 20130103200 – “METHOD FOR LOCATING A VEHICLE” describes a portable computing device that can be used to locate a vehicle in a parking structure. In particular, the portable computing device can communicate with a parking system that manages the parking structure and/or with a vehicle in order to locate the vehicle. Communications between the portable computing device, parking system and vehicle can be based on one or more wireless connections, such as Bluetooth and/or Bluetooth LE connections.
And not necessarily only with Volkswagen. While the VW/Apple relationship appears to be working harmoniously, Apple’s automotive oriented technology is not an exclusive to the Beetle maker. Earlier this year, Ferrari began equipping one of its car models the FF with iPad minis. The FF is Ferrari’s first-ever four-seater with four-wheel drive. The $295,000 base price, Pininfarina styled, 683 horsepower FF (FF stands for “Ferrari Four” — four seats plus four-wheel drive) is seamlessly integrated with Apple technologies, thanks to direct access to the infotainment system via Siri voice commands and the adoption of two iPad minis installed in the back of the front seat headrests as the entertainment system of choice for rear seat passengers.
The iPad integration is the result of technological innovation acquired through Ferrari’s close relationship with Apple. According to a Bloomberg Businessweek report, Ferrari is in talks with Apple about broadening a partnership on in-car entertainment, with Ferrari’s President, Luca di Montezemolo commenting at the Geneva Auto show earlier this year that the company will be “more precise” about its partnership with Apple Inc. in the next few months. Mr. Di Montezemolo is a known Apple fan, and had talks with Apple CEO Tim Cook at the Cupertino campus last April.
In the 2012 WWDC keynote, Apple’s senior vice president of iOS Software Scott Forstall unveiled Siri Eyes Free, noting: “You’ve heard of hands free before. Hands free allows you to keep your hands on the steering wheel while you use your phone. Well, we want to integrate Siri even better with the car. And so we’re working with a number of car manufacturers to enable you to use a button right on the steering wheel to bring up Siri.”
General Motors’ subcompact Chevrolet Sonic and sub-subcompact Chevrolet Spark are the first automobile models to market with Apple’s Siri Eyes Free integration via Chevrolet’s MyLink infotainment system, allowing users to make phone calls, select and play music from their iTunes library, listen to and compose text messages, use Maps to get directions, read notifications, access Calendar information, add reminders, and so forth. Both Sonic and Spark have that steering wheel button Mr. Forstall mentioned to activate Siri. Eight other automakers have announced that they will be incorporating Siri into similar systems: BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Land Rover, Jaguar, Audi, Toyota, Chrysler, and Honda.
This week, 9To5Mac’s Mark Gurman reports that Apple plans to move aggressively into in-car integration space, and is working with carmakers to deeply embed iOS’s Maps and Siri services into cars. While companies sell accessories to place iPhone and other iOS devices on car dashboards for easy access to Apple Maps turn-by-turn navigation, Apple wants to break into the space with its own solutions according to Gurman’s sources who say Apple and its auto sectoe partners are working on updated versions of car center consoles that could attach to iOS devices like the iPhone. A plugged-in iPhone with an optimized, redesigned version of Apple Maps will appear on the cars built-in display instead of a proprietary GPS system found in many cars and Siri would be used to control the Maps functions and other iOS features- much closer integration than with the new Volkswagen iBeetle car that simply holds an iPhone running a third-party app.
Gurman also notes that “earlier this year, Apple posted a series of job listings on its website related to iOS device integration with car stereo systems. Apple is seeking Software Quality Assurance testers for stereo compatibility with iOS products. These job listings, which also cover creating software for car integration, require expertise in Bluetooth product testing,” suggesting that this may signify that the aforementioned upcoming features could rely on Bluetooth rather than wired connections.
It’s well short of an Apple iCar yet, but arguably more steps in that direction.