A few holdouts may still prefer stark cabins to Tony Stark-worthy gadgetry, but drivers have largely welcomed tech companies’ takeover of their dashboards. Motorists want the best multimedia and infotainment features along for the ride, and they want them to be as accessible, speedy and intuitive as the smartphones in their pockets.
Apple’s CarPlay pledges to offer the connectivity that drivers and passengers crave, with the intelligence to get out of the way when it’s not wanted. The system works by serving up CarPlay-compatible apps on a vehicle’s in-dash screen, essentially displaying them in a special format in the car while they’re running on an iPhone.
And while automakers have been slow to adopt Apple’s approach – the system started out as “iOS in the Car” two years ago – some recent announcements by General Motors and other carmakers bring CarPlay to more than 40 vehicle models this year, with even more slated for 2016.
But how exactly does CarPlay enhance the driving and riding experience over manufacturers’ existing infotainment systems? Here are five key areas where drivers and passengers will notice a difference.
More connection, less distraction
It’s no secret that drivers continue tapping their phones behind the wheel, despite the threat of fines in many areas of the world. One of CarPlay’s aims is to take away the temptation, while still providing the convenience.
Integrating phone and text services into a car’s infotainment system is nothing new, but CarPlay puts a novel spin on it. The company’s voice-activated assistant, Siri, works with CarPlay to allow drivers to send and receive texts, place calls, find their favourite music playlist and listen to voicemails. This means that much of a phone’s communication capabilities are fully integrated into CarPlay, accessible by Siri and essentially distraction-neutral.
For the Siri-averse – and they do exist – CarPlay works with a vehicle’s existing touchscreen, knobs and buttons, so the learning curve flattens even more. For added security, once you plug the iPhone into the dash and start using CarPlay, you won’t be able to use the device until it is unplugged.
CarPlay can suggest driving locations based on your emails, texts and calendar appointments. If you have a lunch appointment on your calendar, CarPlay effectively intuits the best route to get there on time. And while in-car navigation systems are still works in progress, CarPlay has the advantage of using the driver or passenger’s constantly updated Apple Maps locations and points-of-interest. No need for firmware or software updates to your in-car hardware.
More listening options
While most new cars support subscription-based satellite radio services, not every motorist uses them. That may be where Apple’s music and entertainment apps make their biggest play.
A driver can tap into Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, iTunes and others, as well as listen to audiobooks through Amazon’s Audible app, or to podcasts, news and radio shows through the Stitcher app. As more cars roll off the assembly line with CarPlay compatibility, you can bet more audio apps will follow.
Apple announced at is Worldwide Developer Conference in early June that CarPlay will go wireless when the next version of the iPhone’s operating software, iOS 9, is released in the fall. Apple claims that an iPhone can remain in pocket, while it wirelessly connects to the car and serves up CarPlay.
The untethered option will be a while coming, though, considering compatible cars are not yet on the market, but the new software update will also bring another major improvement: enhanced integration with automakers’ apps.
Car companies will be able to create apps specifically for CarPlay for tasks such as adjusting the climate control. This will bring even more practical functionality to CarPlay, while offering automakers a touch more control over how the system is being used.
Up-fit that jalopy
Of course, those who are not shopping for new wheels could feel left behind by all these developments. No need, as some third-party device makers have already released display units that are compatible with CarPlay. A 2012 Toyota Camry can have nearly the same specs as the 2016 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 – minus just a few key performance ingredients, of course.
Starting at about $600, aftermarket CarPlay-compatible displays are not cheap, but they are still less expensive than factory-installed infotainment units.
Of course, there will be dozens of updates along the way for CarPlay, and the system is not without its drawbacks. Because of a glacially slow rollout, the list of third-party apps is short, and switching back and forth between CarPlay and the vehicle’s own infotainment display may not always be a seamless process. But with CarPlay’s current features, coming upgrades and more automotive manufacturers signing on and building apps, CarPlay seems poised for the kind of quiet ubiquity that all Apple products aspire to.