Where has Apple been? For the last decade, carmakers have been trying desperately to match the ease of use of an iPhone for their in-vehicle user interfaces. Thus, the absence of Apple in this industry has been a glaring omission—until now.
Apple recently announced CarPlay, a touch screen interface that allows drivers to access their iPhone, with a focus on standard apps like Maps, Music, Messaging, and calling. But why has it taken Apple so long to get to this point?
“Automotive development cycles are measured in years, not months,” explains Damon Lavrinc, transportation editor for Wired.com. “While Apple or Samsung can put out a new phone every 12 months or less, the average time from a vehicle being given the green light is 3 to 6 years, far slower than the consumer electronics world.”
According to Lavrinc, Apple already has deals with automakers from Ferrari to Honda. Other automakers include Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo. Apple says, 13 more automakers have future agreements to employ CarPlay, including BMW, Chevrolet, Jaguar/Land Rover, Nissan, Subaru, and Toyota.
Another big name that will be using CarPlay is Ford, which first worked with Microsoft in the 2000s to offer the SYNC information and entertainment system. SYNC and its MyFordTouch user-interface component have been routinely criticized for poor execution and frequent crashing or stalling. So how does CarPlay fit into the current market of tech competitors?
“Microsoft powers many of the infotainment systems on the market, as does Blackberry’s QNX software. Consumers just don’t see it,” says Lavrinc. “Google just announced plans to bring Android to the car, although there’s no firm date on when it will arrive.”
With the presence of these various systems, will there be a kind of ‘Beta vs. VHS’ war? Karl Brauer, senior director of insights at Kelley Blue Book (KBB.com), thinks it will be a lot better for consumers than being married to one particular operating system: “At some point in the car world, no matter the phone carrier or the car brand, you can get what you want,” Brauer explains. “No car company is turning its back on iPhone or Google Android users. We’ll get to the point where you can hit a button and change CarPlay over to Google’s system, based on the device preference of the driver.”
CarPlay will not just be limited to new cars, either. Brauer says the Pioneer AVIC 8000 is “like having a deck with the most advanced [Chrysler] Uconnect and Apple functionalities.“ But all of these advanced interface systems detract from the driver’s attention, which raises major safety concerns. “Safety is going to be the major limiting factor here,” says Bauer. “Drivers’ abilities are so varied—you have some drivers who can enter a complicated address into the nav while driving, and other drivers who can’t have a conversation without being distracted.”
But Lavrinc contends that Apple has thought this through: “Most of the commands for CarPlay are handled through Siri. Theoretically, that makes it as safe as the standard voice commands in cars.” Lavrinc explains that some features could be locked, so that drivers would not be playing Angry Birds while hurtling down the highway at 65 mph.
Automakers are also preparing cars for roads full of distracted drivers, as evidenced by the latest in-car safety systems. “Most of the high-end automakers—Audi, BMW, and Mercedes—are working on semi-autonomous driving systems that will operate at low speeds, and can drive the car independently in bumper-to-bumper traffic” says Lavrinc. “In the next three to four years, we’ll be seeing the capabilities of those systems expand to higher speeds.”
The semi-autonomous systems are to keep us from harm, but automakers have also been thinking about convenience. Audi has announced a system that uses Wi-Fi to determine how fast you should be driving to ensure a light is green by the time you arrive at it. Audi claims the Smart City Traffic Light Assistance system will cut emissions in its vehicles 15 percent by reducing idle times and the fuel spent pulling away from a standstill.
Audi is also working on Urban Intelligent Assist, which employs a number of technologies to actually predict where open parking spaces are located. Curbside parking spots in portions of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Hollywood are equipped with sensors that can tell if a vehicle is present. These sensors are connected to a central server that transmits the data to the Audi.
In the modern car market, lane departure warning systems, smart cruise control, and cars that can tell if you are sleepy have become the norm. The near future holds cars that will let you better interact with your smartphone, drive themselves in certain conditions, and generally improve the driving experience. Will these technologies truly make our roads safer and our commutes better? Or will they cause more headaches? What will happen if these systems fail? These questions will only be answered with time.