By on March 3, 2014

carplay

Last year, Apple announced iOS in the Car, which was revolutionary in that the car companies were ceding an important amount of control of the in-car experience to an external company. Now, Apple has released more details and a new name: CarPlay, which will initially work only with newer iPhone 5’s (anything with the Lightning connector) and with announced support for cars from Ferrari, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Mercedes, and Volvo in 2014 and several more in 2015. Notably absent from the list are VW/Audi, Chrysler/Fiat, and Tesla.

There’s lots of coverage in the tech press (TheVerge covers the full announcement, TechCrunch has sentiment similar to what I’m about to write). To my mind, the big issue here is lock-in. Are you an Android user? Sorry, CarPlay appears to be proprietary and will not support your phone. Oh, did you want a new VW/Audi car? Looks like they’re working with Google in the competing Open Automotive Alliance, which is a bit shy on details but does say “you can expect to see the first cars with Android integration by the end of this year.”

Let’s game this out in Q&A format.

I’m thinking about replacing my current car. Should I wait for this stuff to hit the market or should I buy now? If you’re the sort of person who can have an animated conversation about smartphones, if you want to have your whole music library with you in your car, if you use Spotify, Pandora, or other such things regularly, if you have an opinion about why Chrome is or isn’t better than Firefox, then yes, you want to wait. You’ll feel like an idiot if you buy a new car now when much, much better stuff is about to hit the market.

I love my iPhone and I want to buy a new Audi. Am I screwed? Maybe. We know that VW/Audi is playing with the Google team. If nothing else, you’ll still have Bluetooth A2DP integration (phone calls, stereo audio, and track-skip buttons), but you won’t have navigation and all the other goodies. Dump your iPhone for an Android and move on with life.

I love my Android and I want to buy a new Mercedes. Am I screwed? Maybe. As above, you’ll still have Bluetooth A2DP, but you’ll be similarly missing the new goodies. Dump your Android and join the Apple faithful.

I love my Windows Phone and I want all this great stuff. Am I screwed? And you expected what, exactly? Ford appears to be dumping their Microsoft-sourced SYNC system for something new from Blackberry. Maybe Microsoft will pile into the Open Automotive Alliance. Maybe they’ll reverse engineer and support Apple’s CarPlay without Apple’s permission. Without a doubt, Microsoft has a master plan here. They’re just not talking about it yet.

I love Pandora, but they’re not mentioned anywhere in Apple’s press releases. Am I screwed? Maybe. It appears that Apple isn’t opening up CarPlay to be a free-for-all platform for any iOS developer. Pandora will presumably kiss the ring and get its app supported. Others might not.

My spouse has an iPhone, and I’ve got an Android phone. WTF? Exactly. In the new world order, your choice in phones is going to drive your choice in cars, or vice versa, but the two decisions are now entangled. The set of car makers who are listed today as planning to support both Apple iOS and Google Android are GM, Honda, and Hyundai. If you need to go both ways, your choices will be limited.

How can I retrofit this cool new stuff to work with my older car?  If there were an actual standard that any third party could implement without asking anybody for permission, then you might see interesting hacks, like running the car-side of this on a 7″ tablet mounted to your dashboard, with line-out to your stereo. This would look about as attractive as the unfortunate love child of an aftermarket GPS and a taxi meter, but it would at least be technically feasible. Unfortunately, the absence of standards says that this is unlikely to happen any time soon.

Welcome to the future, where you car is an accessory to your phone, and personal dating web sites ask “Android or iPhone?” Choose wisely.

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48 Comments on “Apple’s Car Play: Smartphones And The Future Of Car Shopping...”


  • avatar
    7402

    I’d like a solution that is as simple as Bluetooth–an intermediary between conforming cars and conforming devices that has 100% backward compatibility forever. It could have both wireless connectivity (Bluetooth) and cable connectivity via USB.

    If the intermediary is consistent and simple and both sides conform to a supported library of commands/references/tags (like HTML) then almost any device will play with almost any car.

    This strikes me as being more difficult in terms of organizations and “turf” than technically challenging. Neither car manufacturers nor consumers want car choices to be determined by the latest flavor of smart-phone in our hands.

    • 0 avatar
      cackalacka

      Agreed. In a few short years, it’s amazing to think of how intractable most smart-phone users are to their particular OS.

      After years of tape-adapters and manual knobs working just fine, when the day comes for me to replace my car, if the electronics requires me to jump ship to some proprietary system in order to get the HVAC controls to work, not interested. (This coming from someone who digs his electronic toys and has hard-wired a 500 gig hard-drive to his whip.)

    • 0 avatar
      toxicroach

      To be clear here, carplay is just a software option to use your current system screen to control your iPhone. which is why it’s talking about IF your car has a touchscreen, IF it has knobs. If it was an Apple only unit there would be no if there.

      Doesn’t mean you have to buy an iPhone, as your system will be able to work without one. Or that Android won’t build one as well.

      It’s just a cool idea to let your phone control it if you feel like it. If not, not. You could probably use Pandora the old fashioned way.

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    OAA’s members are: Google, Nvidia, Audi, GM, Hyundai, the latter two being on board with CarPlay. There was a Daimler job listing for “Google Projected Mode”, which suggests that their implementation will be similar: cheap hardware that’s just enough to display the car-specific apps, leaving the smartphone to do the processing.

    http://www.engadget.com/2014/03/02/google-projected-mode-mercedes-benz-leak/

    Hopefully this will all be affordable enough to be implemented together, at least for new vehicles. I’d like to see an aftermarket application, but not holding my breath.

    • 0 avatar

      Many years ago, I bought a brand new Mac Pro with room for four hard drives inside based on Apple’s then-promise that they’d support ZFS (the all singing all dancing filesystem of the future). Shortly thereafter, Steve Jobs had a snit and the feature was canceled.

      Lesson learned: until a feature is actually shipping, it’s not real yet. For all we know, they’ll only roll out the Android support in countries with higher Android market share.

      • 0 avatar
        JMII

        Apple never really promised ZFS. For years several rumor sites began putting together various pieces that made ZFS support sound like a “sure thing”. And at one point it was a spec on their server product line, but then Jobs killed that whole line to focus on consumer products. Thus sadly it never came about. This has happened countless times regarding a complete ground up rework of the MacOS Finder.

        http://www.macrumors.com/2012/01/31/zfs-comes-to-os-x-courtesy-of-apples-former-chief-zfs-architect/

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          Same as happened with an improved file system that was supposed to come out with Vista, then was canceled; IIRC, Mcro$oft was working against a deadline, and cut features to get that smoking turd of an OS out the door. And it still turned into a flop, continuing the “every-other-OS-is-a-POS” thing that continues with Windows 8.

      • 0 avatar
        glwillia

        I was pissed about that too. HFS+ is the sole major architectural weak point of OS X these days.

  • avatar
    brenschluss

    As long as it’s optional.

  • avatar
    akatsuki

    So how is this different than using a car manufacturer’s proprietary solution? iDrive, Uconnect, etc. are all sick jokes that tell you exactly where the dregs of programmers end up.

    Frankly, if you don’t have an iPhone, go buy a touch or something to use it.

    • 0 avatar

      The difference is that you’re now running Apple software, displayed inside your car, which is somewhat likely to work at least as well as an iPhone works in your hand. Relative to the software from the big auto manufacturers, this is a huge improvement. And, every time Apple does a software release, or every time you buy a new phone, your in-car experience will get better alongside it. This is a very big deal.

      • 0 avatar
        360joules

        Until it doesn’t work. Been burned on more than one IOS update.

        • 0 avatar

          Agree I never really hated apple even owned a mac for a while, but my work Ipad has started having more bugs than my Android phones it crashes pretty regularly (several times a day) I thought it was a fluke until playing with a coworkers new iphone and having the nav app crash and than be unable to close it(kept popping back up 3 secs later) I’m pretty sure Apple stuff is in a backwards slide of late.

        • 0 avatar

          Neither Apple nor Android are bug free experiences, but they do have the benefit of fairly rapid turnaround. The OS platform gets major annual upgrades. Individual apps can be and often are updated much faster. Facebook, for one example, seems to release a new version of its app every single week.

          Contrast this with traditional car electronics, where you’re lucky to see a major software upgrade *ever*. By pushing all of the fancy software functionality (navigation, music, etc.) out to your phone, car companies can hopefully spend more time and effort getting the rest of the car right.

          • 0 avatar
            sgeffe

            And you usually have to pay through the nose when they ** do ** offer upgrades, at least to Nav systems.

            The automakers should support electronics like they do with replacement parts: Honda, for example, IIRC, produces interior pieces, trim bits, etc., for ten years after a platform is out of production. They should offer infotainment upgrades on the same schedule: free or low cost while the car is current (or for, say, four years after the car goes away, to be fair to buyers of the last year), then higher-cost upgrades for the next six years, then end support.

      • 0 avatar
        curious_g

        Most of the other systems are not as proprietary as it seems; the bulk run on Windows CE.

  • avatar
    arj9084

    I believe global warming is a farce, and that is why I bought my 12MPG SUV for my daily commute, do I need to get an android phone too?

  • avatar
    Greg Locock

    “How can I retrofit this cool new stuff to work with my older car? If there were an actual standard that any third party could implement without asking anybody for permission, then you might see interesting hacks, like running the car-side of this on a 7″ tablet mounted to your dashboard, with line-out to your stereo. This would look about as attractive as the unfortunate love child of an aftermarket GPS and a taxi meter, but it would at least be technically feasible. Unfortunately, the absence of standards says that this is unlikely to happen any time soon.”

    You might like to check out OpenXC which is a free open environment that allows you to use your Android device to interact with the car, via a Bluetooth dongle. http://openxcplatform.com/

    • 0 avatar
      SpinnyD

      http://www.amazon.com/PIONEER-AppRadio-SPHDA210-Capacitative-Touchscreen/dp/B00D6ZETV2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1393882176&sr=8-1&keywords=appradio+4

      This is the best aftermarket solution out there, It’s pretty much the same thing.

      • 0 avatar
        mkirk

        Have they gotten it right? It was pretty buggy in its first iteration and Pioneer, like most of the aftermarket was stymied by the lack of an analog video out on the new lightning connector.

        • 0 avatar
          SpinnyD

          Yeah, they have really improved it.

          It looks like you can just use the Apple A/V cable for video.

          http://www.amazon.com/review/R1NB61M8H2L2X0/ref=cm_cr_pr_viewpnt#R1NB61M8H2L2X0

          this is a pretty good and thorough review. even has good info in the replies.

    • 0 avatar

      Likewise, there’s MirrorLink (http://mirrorlink.com/), which some car manufacturers have proposed to adopt and which is supported by several third-party head units. Maybe Google’s forthcoming design is built around MirrorLink. We’ll see.

  • avatar

    I subscribed to Sirius XM radio on my iPhone because I have unlimited internet and because it can be listened to on any iOS device or PC. It never suffers from cutouts under bridges or tunnels due to it’s buffering of cellular signals. I can drive through the Holland Tunnel without it cutting out.

    I use the streaming Bluetooth in my cars to listen to SiriusXM broadcast from my phone.

    Basics like A2DP, Bluetooth, SD card slot and AUX are the best. When you buy a car you’re gonna keep for 6 years, you hope the technology won’t change too much over that time but it inevitably will. USB 3.0 looks like it’s gonna be the standard for a while as does Bluetooth and the 3.5mm input. Thing is, I steer clear from proprietary standards.

    Apple’s benefit is having the simplest to use interface. I love their iOS devices but I’d never want one to be a main part of my car. I don’t want to purchase music using their headunit – to share with my other iOS devices because there’s always a chance I might leave Apple if something better debuts.

    • 0 avatar
      E46M3_333

      Does music on satellite radio still sound like crap? When I had it, they broadcast at something like 56kbps which is much more heavily compressed than even a crappy MP3 at 128 kbps.
      .
      .

      • 0 avatar

        IPhone downloads it in either low bandwidth mode or high.
        I use HIgh!

        Sounds at least as good as a CD.

      • 0 avatar
        JMII

        Yeah satellite radio is still compressed like crazy and sounds pretty crappy. On most factory audio systems your average listener can’t tell, but playing satellite tunes back-to-back with a CD (especially with an aftermarket system) I can easily detect the difference.

        I’ve yet to listen to satellite streaming via a cell signal, so maybe its better. If the compression is only applied during the upload into space then the audio piped over the internet might actually sound decent.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          I find music on Sirius unlistenable, but I have never tried the cell option. I did have XM over the Internet for a while, it was just as bad as over the air. But I use it for NPR, the BBC, and Blue Collar Radio, so I don’t really care. Give me those three stations and I will drive to the moon and back happily.

          I did much prefer the XM in my Saab to Sirius in my BMW and Fiat though. Sounded better, fewer signal problems up north, and a better channel lineup.

          For this phone integration stuff – no thanks, not remotely interested. I am resigned to the fact that my next new car will have some sort of gigantic annoying screen in it, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

      • 0 avatar
        mypoint02

        Yeah, it’s compressed a ton. FM radio is a huge improvement. I’m sure it’s so they can jam more channels in on their spectrum. I remember Sirius sounding pretty good pre-merger. I’ve used the app before and it sounds much better, but who wants to fumble around with a phone all the time? I’m constantly changing the channel on sat radio.

  • avatar
    ixlar8

    This is a repeat of the Sony Betamax. RCA SelectaVision vs JVC VHS fight in the 80s.Then we had the HD-DVD, DIVX vs Blu Ray recently.

    It’s going to work out but not for a couple of years.

    • 0 avatar
      charly

      Those were open standards. Anybody could make a player as long as they paid. I don’t see that happening with Apple

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Agreed, but the difference is we are now in a world of software licensing. Thus company A will build it and then sell it to company B,C,D and so on. At some point there will be a cross platform / standardized interface for this. In fact we already have it in the form of USB and Bluetooth. People are just expecting their smartphone (any phone) should work with any car. That is not possible (yet) so these OEMs have partnered with Apple since Apple has a well developed and proven ecosystem with the GUI all figured out. Android is still all over the place (IE: fragmentation) thus partnering with them would yield several interfaces. Apple’s closed walled garden approach allows OEMs to easily plug-n-play if they follow all of Apple’s rules.

      The silly part of all this is what happens in 3 to 5 years when the next “big thing” hits and makes all this obsolete? Those of us with several 30 pin Apple dock connectors (per iPhone 5) know the drill – get ready to buy a whole new set of adapters to make your CarPlay system work.

      I honestly don’t see this being that big of a deal, some third party will release an app or interface adapter that makes Android or MS phones have access to similar features. There is no way OEMs want to limit their customer base to just Apple fanboys*

      *of which I am one.

  • avatar
    mkirk

    Is this going to be a solution where the actual processing happens on the phone or will it simply rely on the phone for a data connection. I figured it would be more akin to an existing type interface with an Airplay receiver to mirror the phone to the head unit with some specific apps for the car stuff but this looks to be a bit more integrated.

    As to Pandora, I wonder if they will make it hard on them. Think about it, most aftermarket receivers have Pandora integration. Apple may see this as a way to get iTunes Radio some market penetration.

    • 0 avatar

      A helpful analogy would be the support for multiple tabs in your web browser. Each tab is controlled by a separate web site, and they’re all sharing your screen. Now, imagine one tab is doing all the “local” stuff (HVAC controls, etc.) and another tab is handling your smartphone.

      Most likely, the heavy lifting will happen in your phone, and your car is just pushing bits to the screen. It wouldn’t surprise me, though, if things evolve a bit over time and the car gets more engaged in the process. For example, your car can have a better GPS antenna on the roof than your phone has in its case. Likewise, your car knows which compass direction it’s heading, how the wheel is turned, and so forth. Your car can help your phone navigate by telling it all those things. Likewise, you can imagine apps on your phone that interact with your car (as with the Tesla), further blurring the lines.

  • avatar
    redav

    I don’t use my cell phone in my car. I am screwed?
    – Yes and no. You will have to pay for crap you don’t want or need, but you will still be driving after everyone else gets distracted and drives off a bridge.

    • 0 avatar
      slow kills

      +1
      What does this mean for Nokia brick fans that use cell phones for talking and want a car for driving?
      Nothing. Continue being an old-fashioned sane person and keep your money.

  • avatar
    Ihatejalops

    This kind of stuff bothers me since it’s essentially cartel like behavior. It seems that a few companies will force us to choose things that a consumer may not want. This is where governments should intervene to protect the consumer and give us choice back. Seems like monopolistic practices to me.

  • avatar

    Apple (or anyone) has a chance to succeed here mostly because the existing solutions are all so bad. Ever their mediocre map solution is generally better than whatever the hell those overpriced denso systems use.

    The problem as highlighted by the article is the unnecessary but typical for apple lock-in. Apple can sell a $600 phone (<$200 after subsidies) but selling a car to follow up is another matter.

    Until there exists compelling features to fully integrate the two it's just better to have simple controls for the car and use the phone separately in some kind of holder.

  • avatar
    mypoint02

    I’m wondering how this is going to play out with the life cycle of electronic devices vs. the life cycle of a car. The car is going to be around a lot longer than your iPhone 5S. How long is Apple going to build backwards compatibility for older versions of Car Play into their newer devices? What if this effort fails miserably and they shit can it after four years? Same goes for Google. I’d rather see improvement on cross platform communication standards like Bluetooth than locking into a vendor / platform and all the variables and caveats that come with that.

  • avatar

    The desire above for current bluetooth-type integration is correct in that standards are good, but less so when it comes to basic design of these systems.

    In order to design anything well the basic question is “what is it used for” which is not trivial to answer for car infotainment.

    On the one hand you don’t want *yet another device* to manage, and thus the car as a slave/service that your existing phone can poll or control (ie send music to) is desirable. But on the other hand it’s still useful to have a fully working car even when your phone’s not on hand, and have the buttons all work without complicated redirection to an external device, etc.

    The only way both these types of demands can be met is through a peer sync-type interface. Unfortunately while technically quite feasible it’s still complex enough that getting everyone in an industry as disjointed as auto to agree to the same specifics won’t be easy. What’ll like happen is some de facto standard will be established and we can only hope it’s open enough for everyone else to follow.

    A good prediction is that Google will eventually win given their experience at this sort of thing in tech and penchant to work with HW partners compared to Apple’s our way or the highway attitude.

    • 0 avatar

      Making predictions about the future is always a dicey business. Nonetheless, the past might offer us some guide. Oldsters might remember the X Window System. Any given program could run on any computer, anywhere on the Internet, and then display itself somewhere else. More recently, we see Citrix and other screen-scraping technologies (VNC, Windows Remote Desktop, etc.) that again allow you to run one one computer and display on another one.

      The benefit of all these remote display technologies was to separate the thing on your desk from the thing doing all the work, while making it feel like they were one and the same. The downside is that you need a reasonable fast network to hook everything together and it might still be a bit laggy. Or, you need to push more smarts into the desktop bit to hide the network latency. Thus: web browsers and/or smartphone apps as smart front-ends to server backends. Serious old timers will note that IBM 3270 terminals had the same idea, decades earlier.

      If you told me that I was responsible for designing a platform for the car to hook into your phone, I’d probably end up with something akin to a Google Chromecast stick. JavaScript and HTML let you customize the display and do all the wizzy animations and such, while keeping the computational requirements of the car side very simple and and cheap, and ensuring that a brief interruption in communications to the phone doesn’t cause the interface to completely wedge.

      That Chromecast-like computer could probably also support the car’s own display needs (HVAC controls, FM radio, CD player, legacy Bluetooth support, etc.), regardless of whether there’s a smartphone jacked in. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that’s the role that Nvidia is playing in this Open Automotive Alliance: supplying a reference implementation of this, with all the hooks to interact with the rest of the car.

      • 0 avatar

        > The benefit of all these remote display technologies was to separate the thing on your desk from the thing doing all the work, while making it feel like they were one and the same.

        This misses the heart of the issue elucidated above. Either your phone displaying (ie taking over) your car, or vice versa both have the same server-client drawbacks. What you really want is more “sharing” rather than one-way control. Sometimes you want media/etc to go from your phone to your car, sometimes you want info to go the other way. The exact medium of exchange (eg peer/peer, cloud) is less relevant than the idea that they don’t have to be unequal. This technology to share a playlist or whatever already exists.

        > If you told me that I was responsible for designing a platform for the car to hook into your phone, I’d probably end up with something akin to a Google Chromecast stick. JavaScript and HTML let you customize the display and do all the wizzy animations

        Just FYI but web techs and chromecast are pretty different methods even if they’re both ostensibly server-client.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    My Toyotas have their “Entune” app suite. New apps pop up every so often. I wonder if IOS in the car would appear as an app on my Rav4 in the near future. Is this an app on a system or is it a whole system?

  • avatar

    Every new major app for smartphones comes first to IOS, it’s one OS and one phone only!
    With Android it’s more like the wild west, hundreds of phones, screen sizes and at least 5 different OS versions. That is the main reason why car companies support apple first and only after a while they take on Android.

    • 0 avatar

      You’re correct that the Apple universe is a bit more uniform, although the Android universe has cleaned up its act of late (e.g., with Google migrating system services into “Google Play Services” which they can update far more frequently than the base operating system).

      Stock apps aren’t going to be able to run without modification in a car for either iOS or Android. Either way, the developer will need to build something new. There will be new APIs to deal with knobs and switches. There will be APIs to deal with secondary screens (e.g., between the tachometer and speedometer). There will be APIs to query the car’s state (on/off? compass direction? speed?).

      I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Google defines some minimum Android API level for car support, and phones running earlier versions of Android will be left behind. Similarly, Apple is requiring an iPhone 5 or better, abandoning the iPhone 4S for CarPlay, despite still selling the phone.

      If you’re a car maker, you’ve got a complex calculus for deciding who to support. It’s more engineering effort to support Apple *and* Android, since they’re presumably taking different approaches, but this might help you sell more cars. That’s the tactic being taken by GM, Honda, and Hyundai. We’ll see if that pays off for them or not.

      On the flip side, when a car costs $30,000 and a phone costs $300, the manufacturer can just throw the phone in with the car, along with a promise that future Apple and/or Android phones will be supported as well. I can already hear the car dealers hawking deals like this. “Buy a car, get a free phone!” Sigh.

      • 0 avatar

        > I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Google defines some minimum Android API level for car support, and phones running earlier versions of Android will be left behind.

        None of this has to be done at a system level, and if anything Goog/Android has been moving to split off this sort of functionality so it can be updated like an app.

        > It’s more engineering effort to support Apple *and* Android, since they’re presumably taking different approaches, but this might help you sell more cars.

        In the timeframes that car makers are looking at, iOS is frankly a bad bet esp on a global scale. Apple is making the same fundamental mistake that it did with the Mac. Premium “prestige” pricing only gets you so far in a market that eventually commoditizes. Google is betting on the latter just like MS did, which is why it’ll win.

        • 0 avatar
          curious_g

          Smartphone prices have pretty good parity these days. I am not sure where you are shopping to think that iPhones are priced any more than the competing Android and Windows devices.

          • 0 avatar

            > Smartphone prices have pretty good parity these days. I am not sure where you are shopping to think that iPhones are priced any more than the competing Android and Windows devices.

            I am not sure where you are shopping to think that iPhones priced at mid nevermind low Android and Windows ranges exist at all.


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