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Apple promises something ‘new and wonderful’

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The game of thrones among Apple’s executive elite continues with news that current hardware engineering lead, Dan Riccio, is moving into a new role where he is, “creating something new and wonderful” at Apple.

What is new? What is wonderful?

Riccio, whose full title was senior vice president for hardware engineering, becomes vice president for engineering with John Ternus taking the SVP seat.

Riccio has been with Apple since 1998 and became the hardware engineering lead at the company in 2012. Ternus joined Apple’s product design team in 2001 and led the iPhone 12 design team. 

That’s the job titles out the way. So, aside from the career moves, what seems to be in play here?

Beyond the extensive list of praise and plaudits reflecting what Riccio has done so far, the magic words in Apple’s press release describing the shift come from Riccio:

“Working at Apple has been the opportunity of a lifetime, spent making the world’s best products with the most talented people you could imagine,” he said.

“After 23 years of leading our Product Design or Hardware Engineering teams – culminating with our biggest and most ambitious product year ever – it’s the right time for a change. Next up, I’m looking forward to doing what I love most – focusing all my time and energy at Apple on creating something new and wonderful that I couldn’t be more excited about.”

(Italics mine).

What could that product be?

We think we know but we don’t

At time of writing, the Apple Myth Machine has two Next Big Thing product categories pundits and investors seek signs for daily: AR goggles and an Apple Car. In support, you have the usual things: redesigned Macs, foldable iPhones, flexible textile displays and smart clothing, blood glucose checkers, foldable iPads, and much more.

It’s important to note that any one of these things could righteously claim to be “new and wonderful,” which means Riccio could be working on any of the above. Or something completely different.

Whatever time zone we inhabit, the sad truth is that we only really know what we think we know, but we don’t know if we know the right thing to think.

Here’s what I think

Apple Car is heading into the last thousand laps before vaulting from the myth list directly into the headline role in What Car? magazine. We know — because we know Apple – the vehicle would offer a premium experience to riders, and we know that services of all kinds will be essential and available to those inside.

We think we know the vehicles will be assembled using recycled ingredients wherever possible, it seems probable they’ll be electronic, and we can easily anticipate them being built to be carbon neutral.

I can imagine car interiors will be highly customizable using some of the many innovative fabric production processes Apple has quietly developed for Apple Watch. It seems easy to expect the company will have explored every car component, and wherever it finds an opportunity to improve on existing design it will have done so. Even the processor, mapping systems and LiDAR/U1-based collision detection systems. The brains matter in smart cars.

What else can we imagine?

We know rumor and speculation concerning the Apple Car has intensified this year. Received wisdom suggests that while the project probably won’t come to the light anytime before 2024, Apple must at this stage surely want to put someone trusted and highly competent inside its top-secret vehicle design team as it pushes the pedal to the metal to accelerate development.

(Assuming that’s an appropriate analogy for a vehicle of this kind.)

Who better than Riccio?

If this is true, this in itself implies the company has resolved some of the biggest challenges it faced in this project and is now pulling the pieces together for the big reveal.

The first ever Apple Myth semi-autonomous vehicle is perhaps almost ready on paper, meaning development now shifts to process, design, and figuring out how to manufacture these things at a cost both Apple and its customers can afford.

Recent claims Apple may be working in some way with Hyundai (and others?) on the project also hint that focus is shifting to manufacturing, rather than design. Though, of course, a company the size of Apple can work in several directions at once.

Is any of this true?

We know we don’t know. Those few who do know have almost certainly signed away most of their internal organs as surety against sharing such secrets.

All we in the sometimes rightfully reviled pundit class have to work with is speculation, a scattering of claimed leaks, a handful of regulatory filings, and the occasional ill-judged statement from potential Apple partners.

We don’t have our hands on the wheel.

Does Riccio? Has Apple really handed control of this vast multi-year project to a senior engineer and high-level company insider who has worked on every strategically important Apple product since the iMac?

It’s reasonable to speculate that Apple wants to put some of its smartest people in position to keep their eyes on the road while they head to where the personal transportation puck is going.

It is, of course, possible that I’m looking through glasses a little too darkly, and Riccio’s 20-year focus is being applied to the other top-secret Apple Goggles project. But I somehow feel the car has become Apple’s biggest challenge, one that may require a full-time but top-secret lead as it creates something “new and wonderful” to stake space in the window display at larger Apple retail stores.

Maybe.

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Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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