The iTV. The iWatch. The iCar. All of these mythical products have been floated at some point on the Internet, where speculating wildly on future Apple products is a perennial pastime. Sadly, for all the bloviating, the world still waits for the Apple smartwatch and the Apple HDTV. But now the iCar has arrived, out of the blue. Sort of.
Last week, at the Shanghai Auto Show, VW debuted a new collaboration with Apple. It’s called the iBeetle. And it’s weird.
Here’s what we know. The iBeetle is a real-deal collaboration between Volkswagen and Apple. It’s slated for availability in early 2014, with pre-orders starting later this year.
We know that the main integration comes in the form of an iPhone docking station, which works with a specially designed app to give the driver voice-activated access to all sorts of smartphone features. Some are standard operations, like playing songs through Spotify or iTunes, hearing texts read aloud, and accessing diagnostic info for the car itself. Others are, well, less standard. The app’s Postcard feature, for example, will automatically send a friend a digital mailing with your iBeetle’s location.
We also know that the car’s really called the iBeetle. The name’s stamped on the running board.
Here’s what we don’t know: Why? Why would Apple, who already has partnerships with GM, Honda, BMW, and others to put its own Siri Eyes Free feature in cars, agree to this uncharacteristically half-baked collaboration? Yes, car manufacturers are in dire need of all the user experience help they can get--quick note to the automotive guys: When you’re trying to keep your eyes on the road, real knobs and buttons are about a thousand times safer and easier to use than fiddling with a touch screen--and it could be true that the auto industry’s best bet for pushing in-car UX into more sensible, sophisticated territory is these types of partnerships.
But still, this isn’t Apple revolutionizing the dashboard. It’s Apple letting Volkswagen stick an iPhone dock on top of it, and maybe giving them some feedback on their app along the way. Which raises the next question: Why would Apple, a company that’s nothing if not deliberate about its partnerships, and fiercely protective over its own image, let Volkswagen borrow its lowercase "i" and brand this as the iBeetle? What does Apple have to gain by letting an outside product into their close-knit, carefully polished iFamily?
It’s strange, and even though it’s become trite to say, it’s hard to imagine the late Mr. Jobs giving the whole thing his seal of approval (although, speaking of baffling partnerships, remember the pre-iPhone Motorola Rokr? Oof). At the very least, you’d think he’d have insisted that VW give the app a slightly snazzier name. The press release lists it as "Volkswagen Car Net The Beetle." I don’t get it either.