Opinion: More Automakers Will Dump Apple CarPlay, Android Auto
If you’re someone who follows automotive trends, you’ve undoubtedly noticed just how much effort is going into infotainment screens and features associated with connectivity. This is because auto manufacturers believe leveraging consumer data in a manner similar to tech companies (e.g. Microsoft, Meta, Amazon, Apple, Alphabet) will yield oodles of cash. However, this is also why we’ve started seeing businesses dumping things like Apple CarPlay from their vehicles and some of us have a sneaking suspicion this practice will continue.
At the end of March, the media landscape went bananas over General Motors’ decision to phase out Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on all-electric vehicles. On the surface, the move seemed idiotic. Some of us even thought it was an early April Fools’ prank. But it actually makes a lot of sense if you dig a little deeper.
While your author has often bashed General Motors’ schemes to monetize data, it’s one automaker that has been pretty upfront about what it intends to do. Shareholder meetings frequently include discussions about how digitization will open up the door to new revenue streams and there are never any shortage announcements pertaining to corporate partnerships. For example, GM issued a press release stating that it would integrate with NBCUnified, a first-party marketing, data, and identity platform owned by NBCUniversal, in 2022.
How this would advantage drivers doesn't matter. The companies saw an opportunity to share information for marketing purposes and took it.
But all automakers want to amass user data and find partners who might want to buy or sell some data of their own — something that can be made a little more difficult when customers are reliant on one of your biggest competitors. People enjoy Apple CarPlay and Android Auto because it offers near-seamless integration between car and phone. But manufacturers would rather you use their operating systems because they’ve spent a lot of money building them and it offers more control over the data.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto were useful in normalizing tablet-style interfaces for drivers. But it may now be time for the industry to dump them, as they are effectively the competition. Rivian has also opted to abandon CarPlay and the reasons given are very similar to what GM offered up.
"A lot of the things we do, whether it's music or mapping, we have to make sure we integrate in with the best-in-class platforms," Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe recently told the WVFRM Podcast. "But by controlling the system, it just allows us to be the arbiter, or the head chef, in terms of the experience you get versus handing over control of what we think is one of the most important parts of the experience."
He also uttered some nonsense about how proprietary operating systems are designed and updated with the vehicle in mind while Apple and Android are not. While technically true, it doesn’t really matter when they’re supplemental to the baseline OS. The real issue is that something like CarPlay basically offers up everything most drivers would want (music, navigation, and phone calls) and discourages drivers from utilizing the manufacturer’s systems.
This likewise means automakers have fewer opportunities to charge their customers. You can’t up-sell someone on something they’re already happy with, so the next-best thing is to make it impossible for them to use. If Apple CarPlay and Android Auto were to be removed as an option, then the door is once again open to monthly subscriptions in exchange for “premium navigation.”
Tesla, which also doesn’t offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, seems to have seen this coming. The company has often claimed that it passed on phone integration because its software is a cut above and mirroring would dilute the “Tesla Experience.”. But forcing drivers to utilize its navigational systems likewise results in the brand getting more data points that can be monetized or used to further improve those systems.
My guess is that we’ll keep seeing companies trying to dump mobile applications that mirror smartphone services for automobiles for that exact reason. This represents a pretty big gamble, however. Prior to phone mirroring becoming ubiquitous, one of the first things car shoppers would ask about was whether or not the vehicle they were interested in offered Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. It seems unlikely that drivers would suddenly become passive were the industry to take those features away.
That is unless automotive manufacturers can offer something equally useful.
Considering how data-crazy companies like Google and Apple are, it’s exceedingly difficult to defend them. However, having yet another business siphoning up your private information is no more desirable than just handing it over to the big boys. Automakers will absolutely have to offer a better user experience than what’s currently available and the real promise of data privacy (a dubious prospect) if there’s to be any chance of this working.
It will likewise be important that the entirety of the automotive sector runs with the scheme at roughly the same time without violating antitrust laws. Otherwise, they’re just handing the advantage to whatever companies stick with already popular phone-mirroring apps and get to tell customers yes when they ask if their vehicles come with CarPlay.
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