Looking Out - The Podcast: Ep. 1
The first ever Looking Out Podcast!
Joe and Drew offer you an auditory deep dive in to the most popular topics from Looking Out #26.
In this show, we:
- cast a critical eye on Apple’s expanded CarPlay offer,
- explore some of the challenges facing shared micromobility in Europe,
- delight in the importance of getting a car name just right, exploring the legacy of the man who’s created some of the most iconic names in the industry.
Click ‘Read more’ for show links and the transcript
Drew Smith: Hello, I’m Drew Smith.
Joe Simpson: And I’m Joe Simpson.
Drew Smith: And welcome to Looking Out where we connect the dots in Mobility, design and culture.
Coming up in this show,
Apple expands its car play offer much to the consternation of many and for many different reasons,
Micromobility continues to confound and excite in almost equal measure,
and we reflect on the importance of getting a name just right.
Right! Let’s get this show on the road.
First up, Apple’s car play. Car play. See what I did there?
At their recent Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple showed a new, much expanded version of CarPlay. Now, if we’re to believe the demo, this new system goes well beyond the current one’s ability to mirror the driver’s phone on a central screen.
In an attempt to pander to the [00:01:00] worst excesses of a screen-obsessed automotive industry, Apple demonstrated the ability for CarPlay to take over the driver’s display, the center stack, where you traditionally find the navigation system, and they even proposed extending their interface right across the car in front of the passenger.
Now on the one hand, this makes total sense. Car makers have struggled to make usable, beautiful, and consistent digital interfaces for years. With the advent of the original CarPlay, Apple gave consumers the choice of bypassing the crappy OEM system for all of their entertainment and navigation needs.
The fact that 79% of new car buyers in the US will only consider a new car if it has the current generation of CarPlay fitted shows just how successful Apple have been in disintermediating the OEM’s user experiences in this space. But on the other hand, Apple just seems to be perpetuating the worst excesses of the more screens movement that has captivated car companies in recent years.
Well, most of them anyway. Mazda, for example, has made a point of making smaller screens further away from the casual reach of drivers.
Joe Simpson: And as I pointed out in the most recent edition of the Looking Out Newsletter, Mini, along with designer Paul Smith has made a point of making their most recent concept car collaborations entirely screen less, both the mini strip, which we saw in 2021.
And the more recent recharged both leave it to drive is to bring their own device and let them choose the interface that suits them best. Now, in that same newsletter, Drew makes the argument that the new CarPlay is simply Apple catering to the short to medium term needs of car makers. Car makers who some might say desperately need [00:03:00] help to create consistent, coherent, and usable interface.
But based on the Apple demo’s, naivety and more-is-more attitude to screen real estate, it seems like Apple is really missing a trick. So
Drew Smith: Why is this interesting?
Well, apple has historically prided itself on being leaders in the introduction and popularization of better ways of interacting with technology.
The new CarPlay, if not exactly a retrograde step, feels like a lackluster response to the very real safety, usability, and sustainability challenges posed by the proliferation of in-car touchscreens.
What do you reckon, Joe?
Joe Simpson: I think there are a couple of interesting things here. That first point is the one you made about Apple being typically leaders.
And everybody is waiting with bated breath for the Apple car, which we believe is coming. And many of the tech commentators on Twitter, certainly when they saw this new version of Apple CarPlay were like, oh, well this is it. This is all they need. And I think that’s quite an interesting perspective, the idea that if Apple just dominate a screen dominated interior, then yeah, Apple have the opportunity to completely dominate the car experience to a certain extent. Doesn’t matter whose car you’re in, it’s you are having an Apple experience. But if you’re gonna do that, you would expect from Apple to have an experience which feels very different, which feels leading, which feels very Apple and, okay, there’ll be people listening to this who will say, but of course it is. It’s the same types of icons. It’s the stuff I know. Well, it looks [00:05:00] like my iPhone. And we’ve heard, you know, a lot of kind of, sort of this rhetoric of consumers just want an iPhone on wheels, but, it feels like a big missed trick. It doesn’t feel like it’s doing anything that we haven’t seen before. It doesn’t feel like if I just go on a purely surface based level, the UI is anything to write home about.
A lot of the kind of examples that we saw and discuss together felt like, to be honest, not as good as some of the better stuff we’ve seen from some of the leading OEMs recently. Wouldn’t you say?
Drew Smith: Yeah, I think that’s a it. It’s a really good point. I think the other thing that we probably should address when we talk about this though, is what actually sits under the hood and what else Apple is gonna be bringing to the game.
There are two things here. One is kind of ease of ease of commerce or ease of track transaction within the vehicle. Now if we think about the penetration of things like Apple Pay, for example, and the ease with which you can now use that particularly in the United States to, to kind of complete purchases, it’s not hard to imagine Apple being able to take a huge amount of friction out of the car charging, car refueling palaver that we currently have to deal with.
I think the other thing that is really interesting, and it was a point that was raised by one of our readers was that actually this provides just another data acquisition pipe for Apple. And the concern that this person raised was like, what the hell is happening with all of that data? And. Isn’t this just another example of essentially a tech monopolist sucking up huge amounts of, of, of user information for God knows what end And I retorted that, yeah, okay, that’s probably a fairly valid point and I’d rather my data going to Apple than say a car company or Google. You know, Apple currently has the strongest position in the marketplace when it comes to protecting users’ data privacy.
But it is still a really interesting question and I know for a fact that a lot of automakers have been trying to work out how to capture and monetize data on their own. So it remains to be seen what Apple’s gonna do in that space.
Joe Simpson: So I think to me, you raise a, kind of what you’re talking about, there is a question of trust and who are consumers more likely to trust these. A car maker or a tech brand? I think that’s a really interesting question because if you ask people, I genuinely don’t know who they’d say.
I think, you know, people’s relationships with car makers is kind of interesting one. We’ve discussed this in the past, the mediation through dealers national sales organization. Do you really have a relationship with the kind of, with the oem, with the car brand? And equally we’ve seen a huge backlash against big tech and that kind of data sucking sort of situation.
And I think this leads me on to a bigger existential question, which I kind of touched on in the piece I wrote, which is it feels like there’s a fight going on for what happens in the interior of a car in the future. And to our correspondent’s point about a kind of data suck, I think there are a lot of people out there who say, actually, Apple, Google, the big tech brands role here is not to kind of be great at making car, it’s to be great at making sure they can serve you their content, that they have, your eyeballs, that they can monetize you when you’re in a vehicle. In the future and the way we’re going, everything is gonna play into their lap, but the kind of fly in the ointment here is if we speak to people who really kind of, I think, know their onions on this stuff, the truly, truly, truly driverless, you know, getting at your front door, arrive somewhere, some hours away, somewhere else without having to interact with a car, driverless car is still some way away. And until that happens, Is there a case that you as a driver still need to be paying full attention or a lot of attention to what’s happening around you on the road and therefore what’s the kind of scenario where you’re gonna be done?
Something like where something like having advertising served you in the car is actually something that’s okay.
Drew Smith: Well, it’s gonna be an interesting move for sure, and it will be something that we’ll be watching with interest. But from looking at visions of the far future to something much closer to the present, let’s take a look at the continued travails of shared Micromobility in Europe.
Now, for anyone who’s been following me lately, I will have sounded like the shadow of a guy called Horace Dedieu. For those of you not familiar with Horace, he’s the founder of Micromobility Industries and the originator of the term Micromobility itself.
It’s a term we now widely use to describe a class of transportation device that is sub 500 kilograms. So think electric scooters, bikes, and weird and wonderful little things like the Renault Twizy and the recently revealed Nimbus, a tilting, fully enclosed three wheeler.
So why exactly have I been sounding like his shadow? Well, I went to the Micromobility Amsterdam conference recently and blow me down if it wasn’t like a breath of fresh air.
Yes, after a few years in the micromobility doldrums, I probably still haven’t got over not taking that job at Shared Scooter company. I’m a full on fanboy, again, a follower of the future according to Horace. This was a show that was full of opportunities to reimagine the public realm, starting with how we move ourselves and our stuff through it and around it.
It was possible to see the future of cities there, a future that is cleaner, quieter, and much more humane. And compared to the last big motor show I went to -Geneva 2019- it was more optimistic, more collaborative, more mature, more fun, and way more diverse. This was definitely not a show for the pale, male and stale crowd, but in the world of micromobility, it’s not all roses.
Joe Simpson: Yes, as I report in the latest issue, shared skew to companies, Foy being one of them, have come under fire for blitzscaling their businesses. In towns like my own Gothenburg here in Sweden, this has meant that thousands of scooters have been dumped on the street causing visual pollution, creating safety hazards, and no small number of injuries.
In a rather severe crackdown, several city authorities ordered large numbers of the fleet be removed, reducing their density, and therefore accessibility to. And, and after midnight lockout has meant that those that remained were all but useless for those trying to get home after public transport had closed for the night.
Now to give the industry its dues, shared micromobility has really only been a thing since 2017. So it’s quite understandable that there have been some teething troubles, but all signs point to successful players learning quickly from their mistakes and becoming net contributors to a new mobility landscape.
So why is this interesting?
Well, somewhere in the middle ground, I’m certain that there’s a wonderful compromise between cities, citizens, and micromobility companies to be. Cities that cater to micromobility like Paris, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen are more livable and more livable as a result. But we need to get the balance right.
Don’t we? Drew?
Drew Smith: Yeah, we do. And I guess one of the really interesting points to have come out of Micromobility Amsterdam was the focus on data. There’s that word again being used to really help clean up the act of micromobility players within the cities that they’re operating in.
And it was interesting to hear the consultants from Deloitte actually talking about how, in new tender processes for micromobility organizations, it would be very difficult for them to be awarded the contract to operate in a city if they weren’t opening up their data to cities and making it easy to understand how scooters were both being used across the city and how they were being abused as well.
And it’s really important for micromobility players these days to have kind of plans in place to modify user behaviour. To reduce the negative impact on the public realm. So that’s something that I found really interesting. The other thing that I found really interesting was Amsterdam’s continued refusal to allow e-scooters, for example to ride within the city here.
Now having recently been in France where there are no limits on e-scooter use, as far as I’m aware it was quite terrifying to watch some of the really fast e-scooters -and, you know, there are some on the market these days that can do a hundred kilometers an hour- watching them dice with cars and push bikes and e-bikes.
And the thing that you really start to notice is kind of speed differential. And we’re actually even noticing this now in Amsterdam with e-bikes sort of being much faster than, you know, the good old sit up and beg push bikes that most of us get around on in this city. And it does create a, if not an outright safety issue than one of kind of discomfort for people who aren’t able to move as fast on dedicated micromobility infrastructure like bike lanes for example.
Joe Simpson: Right. I mean, I was gonna ask you, where do you think this is working in terms of cities? Because you know, we’ve seen Paris tender down to three operators. We saw Copenhagen chuck the e-scooter operators out in 2020, or at least the free floating model before then allowing it back. We’ve seen, as you just articulated, Amsterdam, [00:16:00] continue to not bring forward the kind of e-scooter model, but it’s been very big here in Scandinavia. And I think the point you’re making about speed compatibility is interesting when we look at which cities it’s working in. Cause as I wrote in my piece in the newsletter, I think quite a lot of this has to do with infrastructure potentially.
Drew Smith: Yeah, you, you, you’re absolutely right. And the other point about infrastructure, which also relates to this point around discipline and reducing the impact on the public realm is that when we’re talking about shared micromobility a lot of the reduction in impact comes from having to install infrastructure to be able to store and charge shared micromobility fleets.
And there’s a -it’s not so much a chicken and the egg, but who’s gonna pay for that?- debate that goes on between cities and shared micromobility operators. There was a very distinct undertone at the conference [00:17:00] that suggested that perhaps shared micromobility was not itself the future.
That’s not to say that micromobility itself is not the future, but it’s perhaps shared micromobility that is not the future. You have problems with the fleets. You have problems with impact on public realm. You have problems with safety, public liability. You have problems with providing charging and storage infrastructure.
All of that stuff starts to go away, or is ameliorated when it’s individuals who own their scooters, when it’s individuals who are responsible for their micromobility device. And so it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. Over the next kind of 18 to 24 months, particularly given the profitability challenges that many micromobility players continue to have.
And with that, we come onto our final section and the importance of nailing a name.
Joe Simpson: Yes. For people of a certain generation, the me sound of these names, as Drew has just ably demonstrated, will conjure up very clear images of the cars that they’re attached to and the images that those cars themselves project. All of these names were the child of a chap who you will likely never have heard of.
His name is Manfred Gotta and he is the naming expert responsible for some of the most iconic automotive names of the nineties and [00:19:00] naughties.
So how does he do it?
From his website comes this choice little snippet run through Google Translate from its original German.
“What is required is to penetrate the soul of the product, the company. And the people working there to put oneself in their shoes, so to speak, in order to find the names that best communicate the message both internally in order to ensure future recognition and enable identification.”
He would also spend time with the customer, saying:
″ …the most important thing is to listen to the customer and understand what he or she really wants.”
Drew Smith: Which is very different from asking them for what they want because as any good researcher knows, most of the time people don’t know what they want and they’ll give you a widely accepted and broadly acceptable answer..
But by listening to people describe their fears, their hopes and aspirations, it’s possible to build up a palette of positive associations that can be drawn together into a name that captures their ideal future state. And if you get the naming right, you have something that will endure with Gotta saying:
“At some point during a product’s lifetime, almost everything changes. The advertising, the packaging, the price, and even the product itself. All of these changes are inevitable as times change too. Tastes in color or typography are subject to the trend of the times, and the product must also adapt to the times, or even better be ahead of its time. With all these changes, it is only the brand name that preserves the identity of the product and the trust in its qualities in all of these upheavals.”
And most provocatively, he says, “without a name or designation, chaos reigns”.
So why is this [00:21:00] interesting?
Well, in an age of impermanence, it seems the value of a durable and differentiated name is only going to become more important.
Now, Joe, I remember when if you walked into a BMW dealer, you bought a 3, a 5, a 7, or if you were really bloody lucky, you bought an 8.
Now you walk into a BMW dealer and, and…
Joe Simpson: you don’t know which way to look.
Drew Smith: Now, call me crazy but surely this impacts people’s ability to recognize and aspire to a sequence of products to be able to grow up with a brand. I mean, you walk into a BMW dealership, like how do you know which one’s right for you?
Joe Simpson: Right. I mean, I think a lot of this is to do with the sense of continuity, as you say, and brand building. And you know, we talked about that [00:22:00] idea of impermanence and I think. We live in really turbulent times, and I personally think that when things change and everything seems to be changing and turbulent and getting faster.
Actually, what a lot of people do is they look for surety. They look for things they know, they look for things that have endured for a long time. They turn to brands that they trust, they turn to names that they understand. And some of that is what we’re talking about here, right?
[00:22:35] Drew Smith: I mean, again, I’m reminded of the minimalist Mazda that we were talking about before, within the context of, of interface design.
But if you think about their product range now, 2, 3, CX-5, Mazda six. Okay. The MX-30 is a bit of a weird one, but you know, yeah, the MX-5 has been around almost as long as [00:23:00] long as I have. So, you know, they have really chosen to kind of stick with this consistency that you’re talking about as being so important for people to be able to latch onto and, and essentially to navigate a brand landscape in a time of of change.
Joe Simpson: Right. And I think Mazda is an interesting example there cuz their range is quite small. I think one of the things you’re talking about when we look at BMW, there obviously still is a 3 Series, a 5 Series, a 7 Series, and an 8 Series. It’s just does now a 1 Series, a 2 Series, a 2 Series GranCoupe, a 2 Series Active Tourer, a 2 Series Grand Tourer, I think. Or maybe they killed that. You know, a 2 Series Coupe. I think I, I’m like, I mean, come on. I work in the industry.
Drew Smith: I’m bored.
Joe Simpson: I can’t remember, and I’m bored -exactly- people outside of the industry, they just like, you know, you’ve lost them.
And I think that’s what it is with these names. A powerful name also is a hook, and it’s something that I think we underestimate that people don’t want to feel silly and they don’t wanna have to explain. What do you drive? Yeah, I drive a Mazda Bongo Freindy.
Drew Smith: Oh God. You had to get that in there. You just had to get that in there, didn’t you?
The, the, the, the counterpoint to end all counterpoints. Well, look, that’s it for the headlines, but Joe, tell us what else have you found interesting of late?
So, I found a few things interesting of late, but one particularly kind of that’s jumped out at me is Honda.
We were talking about micromobility earlier, and some of our listeners might not know, but Honda have this very broad range of products, from planes to lawn mowers, to, you know other agriculture equipment, boats, motors, you know, Honda’s basically a motor company, but perhaps best known to most people for cars. But they’ve set up a dedicated micromobility business. And they have a product coming a new e-Scooter that’s called Stream O.
And it’s quite interesting because in the piece that I’m looking at on TechRadar, which we can drop into the show notes they talk about how the scooter has actually been designed specifically to help and assist with balancing, to reduce the likelihood of falling, reduce the likelihood of accidents and Honda plans to have this on sale in Japan by the end of the year and in Europe next year.
So I think that’s an interesting one to watch.
How about you? What have you been looking at?
Drew Smith: Well, there’s a piece that I’ve got coming in the next issue of Looking Out, which is looking at the state of the small car market, particularly in Europe, in light of the impending ban on internal combustion engine. Or the sale of new cars with internal combustion engines, which I think is coming in, what is it, 2035 from memory.
Joe Simpson: So the EU have just kind of passed legislation, which is for 2035, but there are plenty of countries that are before that. The UK for instance, I think it’s 2030. Obviously the UK isn’t in the EU, but yeah, there’s, there’s countries that I think are before 2035, but Pan Europe is 2030.
Drew Smith: So that makes this article even more interesting. It’s something that I’ve picked up from Bloomberg just today, and it’s talking about the fact that although over the past two years car makers sort of committed investments to EV development have doubled. But their overall investment in vehicles has not doubled.
So essentially what the research says is that funding for EVs is being taken away from the development of internal combustion cars. Now, if you think that there are gonna be internal combustion engine vehicles on sale, give or take for another 15 to 20 years, that means that essentially the power trains that we’ve currently are gonna be the ones that we run out with. So it’s gonna be really interesting to see how manufacturers continue to market and sell internal combustion engine vehicles when they can no longer kind of update them on their traditional model cycles.
Joe Simpson: Right, and I guess comply with legislation, which for internal combustion engine vehicles is only gonna keep getting tougher.
You know, we’re nearly at the Euro 7 kind of legislation, which I think is quite tough.
Drew Smith: Yeah, exactly. So it’s gonna be an interesting few years ahead for the internal combustion engine car.
Well, that’s it for this very first episode of Looking Out. It’s been a pleasure to have you with us, and in the interest of experimentation, we would love to get your feedback.
If you like the show, go on, hit the Subscribe button and if you know someone who might like it to please share it with.
If you hate the show, drop us an email. Let us know how we can make it better, because we’d love to come back for a second to go around.
Now, for more about the topics in this show, visit our website at lookingout.io where you can sign up for the Looking Out newsletter.
Looking out the podcast was written and presented by Drew Smith
Joe Simpson: and Joe Simpson,
Drew Smith: and produced by Chris Frith.
This is Drew Smith. And thank you for listening.
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