The funny thing about Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) was that the most interesting piece of software the Cupertino-based giant showcased may not reach the hands of consumers till 2024. And no, it isn’t the much-talked-about VR and augmented reality headset it has been working on. It is the new expanded version of CarPlay it showed off which showcased a wild new interface for cars that extended beyond the infotainment screen to the instrument cluster.
Apple says that this new CarPlay will show up in partner cars in late 2023. It lined up a show of force with brands like Mercedes Benz, Volvo, Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche, Honda, Ford, Jaguar Land Rover and Renault. But when some of these brands were asked independently by the Verge, it seemed that they didn’t know much about what Apple was doing and sounded cagey about confirming or denying that Apple’s new CarPlay would show up in their product line in the future.
Apple’s gambit is also one that is predicated on the iPhone remaining the centre of the experience. The Volkswagen group on some level has made a tacit admission that its clientele is an iPhone crowd. That’s why the deep integration with Apple Music has been added to Porsche and Audi models while audio streaming services like Spotify and YouTube Music have been left behind in the dust. But this is also a scary proposition for auto companies as it creates a layer of dependence on a tech giant like Apple which seemingly has unlimited resources.
Tesla has famously left both Apple and Google out of its infotainment experience. But then there is pragmatism at places like Ford and Volvo who have wholeheartedly adopted Google’s Android Automotive embedded OS for cars. They believe that Google is better at software and they could save the extra cash as they spend the next decade during a once-in-a-lifetime power train transition towards electric.
However, in the case of Google, Android Automotive is at the heart of the car and is not beamed off an Android phone. OEMs get a say in what apps are being approved. For instance, the Vivaldi browser is on Renault and Polestar cars with Android Automotive but not in the Volvo XC40 Recharge we just reviewed at carandbike.
Apple’s interface doesn’t look just gorgeous and simple – more so than what Google has cooked up, but it will be also very private following one of the principles of the Tim Cook-led gadget-making titan. This would scare the bejesus out of an automaker as not a lot of data would be forthcoming. Apple could leverage the App Store on the iPhone to extend apps to the car via CarPlay which would help it create a bigger and better store faster. This would entrench a carmaker’s dependence on Apple.
Already CarPlay and Android Auto have become table-stakes as phone beaming technologies. But they also visually break the experience one has in the car. Even with the latest lot that features digital instrument gauges – even on the best of the best – the Mercedes S-Class, you see MBUX that looks like something from the mid-2000s designed for Windows and then when you turn on CarPlay you see a simple and functional UI. Apple extends that elegance with the new CarPlay with gauge clusters designed using the ideas from the Apple Watch complications and widgets for iOS.
Siri may not be as good as the Google Assistant but remains light years ahead of anything an automaker has including the “Hey Mercedes” voice command in the new C-Class and S-Class. Apple will certainly be able to enhance Siri and basically help decimate any of these software ventures that Mercedes and some of the European automakers are developing. No wonder, Mercedes hasn’t come out wholeheartedly and said that “we are adopting the new CarPlay”.
Apple hasn’t revealed much about any specific hardware requirements. In fact, Apple says that this new system can scale to multiple screens and sizes seamlessly. Apple has shown a penchant for supporting multiple screen sizes and resolutions better than Google with less fragmentation in the user experience, but it will come with some strict hardware requirements something the company isn’t talking about right now. This is a technical eventuality.
All of this also is also in line with how Apple enters a new product space. It does a taster. It launched iTunes before the iPod. It partnered with Motorola for the iPod phone before the iPhone. It spent more than a decade perfecting its own designed semiconductors before it added it to the Mac a year and a half ago. Likely, it will do the same with AR and VR with iOS and all of its platforms being ready for the technology for now more than five years since when AR Kit was launched.
It is perhaps the auto industry’s worst-kept secret that Apple has been developing an electric self-driving car. It has been a rocky journey which has a number of executives coming in and leaving the tech giant. Now with operations of the Apple Car being under the care of John Giannandrea and Kevin Lynch – the leads for AI and Apple Watch, the new CarPlay shows signs of their touch quite succinctly.
But with an actual Apple Car still, years away or perhaps a pipe dream like the so-called Apple TV that many expected after the death of Steve Jobs, this new CarPlay is certainly a way for Apple gets a hang of the auto industry – what works, what doesn’t. It also gets a consumer touch point and potentially it could be another hook for revenues either by licensing this interface to automakers or through App Store fees or both.
It also flexes why Apple’s software chops are far beyond any automaker perhaps outside of Tesla. If this works – everyone wins – but in the long run, if Apple is able to get its self-driving car project off the rails, then this could also mean trouble for everyone who adopts it. But automakers also don’t have much choice here – they aren’t as good as Apple or Google with software and nor are remote as cash-rich as the two. At the same time, their lunch is being had by Tesla quarter by quarter as the world increasingly moves towards electric cars, so they can best hope – Apple doesn’t have their breakfast, lunch and dinner with this invasion via CarPlay.
And oh, while this happens, Apple is continuing to develop the basic phone beaming CarPlay. So either way, Apple wins and the iPhone remains the centre of yet another experience.