Andrew Kim, the designer who first rose to prominence with a fan-made reimagining of Microsoft’s design language, has left his role as a senior designer at Tesla to join Apple. His LinkedIn profile says that he joined the company in December of this year, while his Instagram confirms that his first day working at Apple Park was last Tuesday. Along with the recent news of Tesla’s chief vehicle engineer returning to Apple, Kim’s move will certainly stoke speculation that Apple is once again working on an actual car.
After posting his Slate design language concept online back in 2012, Kim was quickly snapped up by Microsoft, where he worked on the design of the Windows 10 UI and products like HoloLens and the Xbox One S. After three and a half years at the company, Kim moved to Tesla, where he contributed to the designs of several vehicles, including the Model 3, S, X, and Y as well as the Roadster V2 and the Semi, according to his LinkedIn profile. In an interview published in 2017, Kim said that his focus at Tesla was on designing the cabin space inside the Model 3, a challenge that had to balance the needs of a car that could be driven by both a human and, eventually, a computer.
Apple has reportedly had an interest in self-driving cars going back years, but it reportedly shuttered the teams working on physical car hardware back in 2016 in order to focus on just the self-driving software that could be deployed in partnership with existing automakers. Since then, Apple’s autonomous test cars have consisted of standard cars retrofitted with self-driving hardware. Tim Cook recently clarified that the company’s ambitions are broader than cars, emphasizing “autonomous systems” as the mother of all machine learning projects that benefit everything that Apple does. Nevertheless, the timing of Kim’s hire, just months after Tesla’s chief vehicle engineer, Doug Field, returned to Apple, suggests that the company’s car ambitions might have changed once again.
Kim and Field are just two of the employees who have moved from Tesla to Apple this year. In August, CNBC reported that Apple has hired “scores” of ex-Tesla employees over the course of 2018, amid numerous other departures from the company.
Of course, with his UI design background for Microsoft, it’s possible that Kim could just be working on the user experience of any self-driving software Apple plans to sell to carmakers. And his product design experience would fit neatly into a number of Apple’s current hardware focuses, including that rumored AR headset. We’ve reached out to both Apple and Kim for comment and will update this article in the unlikely event that they clarify Kim’s role within the highly secretive company.