There’s been a lot of speculation in the media recently about Apple’s interest in the auto industry. Some have even suggested that Apple has enough cash on hand to buy GM, Ford, or Fiat Chrysler. Of course, Apple has already tiptoed into the world of autos with CarPlay, which turns your in-car screen into a bigger iPhone screen. So will Apple ever build a car? Stay tuned.
What if Apple decided to get into the parking business? Where would its expertise and formidable design sensibility take it? I doubt that Apple would be interested in parking garages. With pay-by-cell, why would it have any interest in parking meters? And I would be shocked if it ever ventured into the back-end of the parking industry, into revenue control systems and ticket spitters.
But what if Apple’s design principles could be applied to, let’s say, multispace meters. What would they look like? How would they interact with customers?
Several years ago, when my downtown management organization took over full operation of a municipal parking system in a small Midwestern city, I challenged a parking task force of downtown businesspeople to think differently. “What would our system feel like and look like if it were run by Nordstrom,” I asked. (Nordstrom was then considered the ultimate retailer in customer service.) We devised more than three dozen innovations and won numerous awards while seeing an 80 percent drop in customer complaints and a 50 percent increase in revenues. The key was to see the parking system through the eyes of the users – who were, in many cases, women.
(Full disclosure: I’m writing a book on designing downtowns for women.)
So let’s just for fun think about a multispace meter designed by Apple. First, the display would be bright and readable. Many meter displays today are tough to read in bright sunlight, and can be impossible for short customers who see nothing but glare-reflected from above because for them the display is above eye level. Second, it wouldn’t take what seems like an eternity to process a payment and register a license plate or space number. Third, the design would be a work of art.
Perhaps multispace meters are already somewhat obsolete. Several cities I’m working with are moving directly from older meters to pay by cell. But if parking meters are going to be around for a while, maybe instead of asking Apple to design them, we should be asking women.