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.