carplay

CarPlay is undoubtedly a big step in the right direction. Instead of car manufacturers using their own clunky user-interfaces to give you access to things like phone calls and music, there is now a standard, Apple-designed interface.

This makes perfect sense. Apple is the king of user-interface design, and most car manufacturers, well, aren’t. There was a time when I was driving a lot of rental cars and got to experience a whole bunch of different in-car screen systems, and they ranged in usability from halfway ok to downright dreadful. None offered anything close to the simplicity and clarity of CarPlay.

The question I have about CarPlay is: does it go far enough … ?

Sure, hit the CarPlay button on the dash and you’re into the simplicity and familiarity of an iOS interface. But that’s not where you start. You start in the car manufacturer’s own user-interface. So what we end up with is a mish-mash of two completely different user-interfaces on the same screen. Which one you get depends on what you’re doing.

Make a phone call, play music or use Apple Maps for navigation, and you’re in Apple’s interface. Adjust the aircon or pull up gas usage, and you’re in the Mercedes COMAND interface. Or the Volvo Human Machine Interface. Or BMW’s iDrive interface. Or the Audi MMI. Or …

The less-than-perfect Mercedes COMAND interface

The less-than-perfect Mercedes COMAND interface

During a car journey, you’ll be switching back and forth between the two user-interfaces – the pretty, easy-to-use one designed by Apple, and the (usually) ugly and hard-to-use one designed by your car manufacturer. That’s messy.

Wouldn’t it be better for manufacturers to allow Apple to design the entire in-car user-interface? So that everything you do on the screen is consistent, simple, attractive?

It wouldn’t be any more difficult for manufacturers than designing their own interfaces. All an on-screen button is doing is generating a signal that tells a piece of equipment in the car what to do; whether Mercedes or Apple designs that button has no manufacturing implications. Car manufacturers get to do what they do best – designing cars – while Apple gets to do what it does best.

We could even take this one step further. In my view, there’s something else car manufacturers aren’t very good at: installing decent-quality screens. Some of them are just a bit dim and fuzzy. Others … well, watch how hard the person is pressing the screen here and please tell me I’m wrong and that Ferrari didn’t really put a resistive screen into a car costing $330k?

Even with Apple designing the entire user-interface, if it ends up on someone else’s hardware, it isn’t necessarily going to be the ideal experience. Our own Seth Weintraub pointed out that we’ve seen this kind of unholy alliance before.

For those too young to remember, the Rokr E1 was a Motorola phone with Apple’s iTunes music player running on it. Launched in 2005, it was a pretty short-lived experiment.

rockr

The Rokr lesson was that Apple software is so much better when it’s running on Apple hardware. So, what we need is a large, slim, high-quality Apple screen. Any idea where we might find one of those?

The iPad seems to me to be designed for the job. Either the iPad Air or Retina iPad Mini, depending on which size works best for each car. There’s even a guy who’s fitted one to his Delorean, and I have to say it looks closer to a factory fitment than the Mercedes screen.

mercedes_carplay

In an ideal world, it would be a dock system, so you can snap the iPad in and out for use in and out of the car. In practice, though, it would likely be too great a pain to have to remove it every time you parked, and too great a theft risk if you didn’t, so it would need to be properly embedded in the dash.

A factory-fitted iPad with Apple-designed user-interface couldn’t happen overnight. The design cycle for a typical car is around three years. But if Apple did the deals today, three years from now, both the screen and the user-interface in your brand new car could be created by Apple.

A better approach? Or do you prefer your car manufacturer’s screen and interface? Let us know in the poll and comments.