Apple CarPlay: Why Wait for an Apple Car?

There’s quite a bit of speculation that Apple is interested in designing and producing a car. The company is hiring battery engineers from Tesla, and current Apple designer Marc Newson designed a 1999 Ford concept car called the 021C. It looked like the iMacs of the time, to the point that many thought that it’s what an Apple-designed car would look like. The designer’s style is evident even in the newest Apple devices. So is now the time for an Apple car? Google already designed a driverless car, so there’s no reason Apple couldn’t. However, the logistics required to build a car would be very expensive, even for Apple. Whether an Apple car is coming or not, a better interface between the iPhone and cars from established automakers is already here. An Apple Car or Apple in Your Car? First available last year, Apple’s CarPlay received surprisingly little attention compared to many of the company’s other products. CarPlay is designed as an iOS that integrates your iPhone with your vehicle’s built-in infotainment system, adding Apple functionality and user experience to auto manufacturer-supplied hardware. And that’s what CarPlay seems to be. Apple designed it so your phone’s features and content are available in your dashboard infotainment system, and controlled using the same dials, buttons, or touchscreen gestures used to control other vehicle features. Naturally, you can also use Siri voice control for appropriate features. And because you’re controlling your existing device through your car, your favorite apps, streaming music, navigation, settings, and other preferences will be instantly available. You can send texts or emails just by talking to your car, avoiding the distraction of operating a handheld device, now illegal in many states. You won’t have to buy a car you don’t like just to use CarPlay, either. It’s not proprietary to one make: Apple says it’ll be available as a feature on more than 30 vehicle brands from Kia to Ferrari, Alfa Romeo to Volvo. The Best Way to Add Smart Features? Many companies have made attempts to make cars smarter and more feature-rich, but these attempts haven’t always been useful or elegant. GPS is one example. Companies like Garmin make stand-alone GPS systems for cars with no such capability, but with no real integration between car and device. Auto makers designed their own systems with GPS and other features, but many such attempts simply replicated features already found on the smart phones drivers were already carrying. Why pay for the same functionality twice? The real answer seems to be proper integration of smart phones with vehicle systems, designed into the core of each device and not as an afterthought. One of the problems auto makers faced with mobile device integration has always been lack of standardization. In addition to the different operating systems available, there are differences in hardware, frequent updates, and so on. Device tech changes far more frequently than car tech, so it’s no surprise that automakers have historically been reluctant to tie themselves to a device or OS that could be obsolete within a year. More Data, More Possibilities Yet auto makers are starting to overcome this reluctance, and cars themselves are becoming connected. Some GM models now offer LTE 4G connectivity that make the cars Wi-Fi hot spots, and allow for two-way data transmission regarding the car’s operation: that possibility makes updating your car’s software as easy as updating your phone or laptop. So when device makers change their products, your car can update automatically, instead of requiring you to visit the dealer. But auto makers aren’t building connected vehicles just so you can use your phone. The technology allows the car to send data to the manufacturer, which analyzes it and alerts the driver about potential mechanical problems and so on. New cars’ onboard sensors now detect and record an astounding amount of data: Ford says its Fusion hybrid records 25 gigabytes of data—per hour. The system will soon make it possible to share data about drivers, too, reporting good or bad habits with insurance companies—a feature the lead-footed among us may not opt for. More Problems? Storing all that data securely poses new challenges for auto makers. With so much data involved, GM created a new position: “product cybersecurity chief.” While GM has obviously had some experience with data security for its corporate computers and records, it’s never had that concern with a fleet of millions of vehicles. That might be another area in which the auto makers can take a lesson from tech companies—though depending on your point of view, Apple may not be the best company to provide that particular lesson. What About Other Phones? CarPlay isn’t much help for Android users, but there’s no reason Android can’t or shouldn’t build identical functionality for their fans—and auto makers would be smart to offer such an option. It seems likely that many consumers have more loyalty to their brand of phone than their brand of vehicle, and many would be more likely to switch from Honda to Toyota than from Android to Apple. It’s also likely that not everyone wants an Internet-connected car, but that technology does seem to be the current trend. Future cars will be connected to improve service and more, so they may as well offer the ability to connect for entertainment navigation, and more. Photo Credit: techradar.

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Will Smith is a copywriter living in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His favorite word is “petrichor,” and aside from wordplay, he loves reading history, watching Dodger baseball, and racing with the Sports Car Club of America.

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