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.

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63 Responses to “Opinion: Does CarPlay go far enough, or should car manufacturers let Apple do more?”

  1. drgeert says:

    This article describes my first reaction perfectly.

  2. rogifan says:

    But that would mean Apple would be designing an imbedded OS that would have to work with Android and Windows phones. And they’d be competing with Blackberry, Google (and perhaps Microsoft) to be the infotainment OS in the car. I just can’t see Apple ever designing mobile software to support non iOS devices. If CarPlay is a really great experience then it could/would drive iOS device sales. And that’s ultimately what Apple wants.

    • poldev says:

      Exactly. We can’t expect Apple to support non-iOS devices, but they would indeed have to in case they designed the whole car OS interface. Nor could a car depend on owning an iPad to get the full “car experience”.

      • rogifan says:

        I’m sure some would argue that Apple should do exactly this. My guess is the way Apple is implementing it they have a much easier time getting into cars. How many manufacturers would suddenly switch to an Apple designed car OS. My guess is not many out of the gate.

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      Putting an iOS interface in front of Android users could well prove smart marketing …

    • Doesn’t apple already do that with AppleTV working with smartTV’s and iTunes working on Window’s PC’s?

      • zubeirg87 says:

        In fact Apple has designed softwares (iTunes, safari) to be used within other systems(windows), not other systems to be used within its software. It would be like saying Apple making android run within iOS. That does not look like happening.
        And just like AppleTV working with any other tv brands, Apple wants Carplay to work with any car brand.

  3. rogifan says:

    Also, perhaps the resistive screen is so that it will work when you have gloves on?

  4. quote:
    “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?”

    Steve Jobs would tell you (us) that… “There’s an app for that!”

    Maybe, all that Apple has to do is to release a QNX-data exchange API and car manufacturers can make an app for their cars, following Apple’s UI/UX rules.

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      An interesting idea

      • I like the app idea. It’s a win for the carmakers and consumers: Carmakers won’t waste resources trying to duplicate apps that have already been developed; consumers get to use their favourite devices. All the carmakers would have to do is design an elegant dock so people can bring their own device, or purchase one with the vehicle. It couldn’t look any worse than what’s already out there. Some sort of locking system would be necessary for security.

  5. poldev says:

    I would also like to know how Apple Maps are going to work within CarPlay. I mean, will the maps be available offline? If not, they really got a huge issue, cause I’ve found myself with 2G or no connection at all when in a car outside town (or inside many, too).

    Furthermore, Apple Maps… for real? They still need to solve many problems before implementing it in a car. Not only will people get lost, but they could even cause accidents!
    IMO, Apple should at least offer the possibility of using either Google Maps (offline mode) or, probably even better, GPS makers’ maps.

    • rogifan says:

      A bit hyperbolic. I use Apple maps all the time and have never gotten lost or in an accident. If anything this will really force Apple to make maps better.

  6. This is quite a tricky problem for Apple. I remember that Motorola phone. That device probably made it clear to apple that they have to go it alone and make their own phone. The problem with in-car user interfaces is that there are so many different car brands. And each of these brands has several different cars. And of those cars, there are several different trims. To go further, those different trims have varying options the buyer can integrate. My point is that all this variety needs to be accounted for in the cars UI. Apple simply cannot make a “one size fits all” interface that can accommodate all this variety. If they stick to iOS and expand it over to cars, the way I see it working would be a standard Apple layer of apps, and an app store where the car manufacturer can put their own app layer on. Still tricky. It would require giving deep rooted access to the manufacturers to tweak the OS to their liking. Something Apple is very reluctant to do with iOS.

    The car domain seams to be lending itself far better to an Android takeover than Apple. Purely because of its openness.

    I met a Tesla spokesman once and ranted to him about why the car, that has a massive display is using a proprietary UI. I asked him why they don’t ask a Google or Apple to step in and take control. His response was that they would love to, but there are major risks involved when you hand over a car’s (something that moves really fast and holds yours, and others peoples lives) Interface over to a standardized OS. You invite people to start hacking (rooting:android, jailbreaking:apple). Manufacturers are reluctant to give that much control and liability over to someone else.

    And lastly, I think for Apple to maintain its course of keeping its hardware and software together, they should (and can afford to) buy a car company! It sounds ridiculous. But why not! In ten years time, many experts say that there will be self driving cars on the road. A car, will no longer be a car as we know it. Apple should start work on a future self driving iCar.

    • quote:
      “Still tricky. It would require giving deep rooted access to the manufacturers to tweak the OS to their liking. Something Apple is very reluctant to do with iOS.”

      I think this is in the other direction: the car manufacturer has to give iOS developers an API for the car. Then, the car manufacturer or the developers can work out a knew/different/better interface.

  7. Josh Mobley says:

    This seems like a real step down for apple. The ui looks terrible. You’d be better off mounting an iPad mini on your dash or, just using your phone. Very disappointing.

  8. Fil Aperture says:

    Erm. Asking whether your prefer an Apple UI or a Car Manufacturers UI on an Apple News website isn’t going to be pretty representable, don’t ya think?

  9. acslater017 says:

    It makes you wonder what those Apple-Tesla talks were all about. Just batteries? ;)

  10. alanaudio says:

    It would make a lot of sense for the car operating system to provide hooks so that the phone operating system could also interact with features of the car. For one thing it would allow simple customisation, so that when a particular user ( or to be more precise their phone ) is detected in the car, things like the air conditioning, mirror settings and radio stations will revert to their preferred settings for that driver. Furthermore, if you then hire a car, those settings will also be adopted in the hire car too.

    It would also be possible to automate things depending on your location. For instance in forested areas of Germany, you are expected to put your headlights on, even in broad daylight, so that you can clearly be seen. A smartphone could automate that process, putting them on and off according to where you are. Alternatively you might listen to a local radio station as your first choice, but when you drive out of town, it would automatically switch to your second choice of station.

    It would be easy for car manufacturers to install cheap cameras in cars and have them recorded on an iPhone, along with GPS data so that in the event of a crash, you have evidence of what happened, how fast you were travelling and what sounds happened. In the event of your airbags deploying in an accident, your location and a video feed could be sent to the emergency services automatically.

    A rear facing camera is a helpful parking aid, but it it were fed to an app on an iPhone, it could learn the layout of places you regularly reverse into, so apart from telling you that you’re too close to something, it could warn you that you’re not on the ideal line and should steer a little further left.

    New devices such a an iWatch could also interface with the car via an iPhone. For instance, if a warning light appears on the dashboard, it could also trigger your iWatch to vibrate.

    Obviously any such system would need to have very tight security so that cars can’t be maliciously interfered with, but a company like Apple is especially well placed to help with that process.

    • Very good ideas.
      I would like to see the “auto parking” (I think it is in the Smart o Class A) implemented.

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      Yes, a lot of luxury (and some not-so-luxury) cars have that kind of personalisation linked to keyfobs. Linking it to an iPhone would make a lot of sense (though you’d have to know who was driving in the event that both driver and passenger have the app).

      • alanaudio says:

        If multiple phones are detected, there could simply be a pre-determined pecking order, or the user can specify who is actually driving – maybe by being asked who is the driver and you simply say “Fred” or “Wilma”.

        BlueTooth systems in cars currently cope with multiple phones in the car at once, so I don’t see this as much of a problem.

  11. In seeing that video, the UI seems very sluggish… I wonder if it is Apple’s fault, or it is being bogged down by the car manufacturer’s hardware specs. I think it will be interesting to see if the UI will have speed improvements with different types of cars.

  12. Volvo’s UI looks MUCH better than Ferrari’s. How crazy is that… It seems faster and much more responsive to touch than the Ferrari. If CarPlay looks like it does on Volvo with other manufacturers, then I think it will be a huge success.

  13. They are always hacks and jailbreaks like this. http://www.northamericanmotoring.com/forums/navigation-audio/235593-is-it-possible-to-mirror-iphone-display-to-mini-connected.html

    I like the carplay ui, just slightly to simple though ,needs refined a hair to be more like an iPad. I don’t see any car company using just car play or just what android comes up with. The cars will be made to use both so entice both iOS and android users. To the person that mentioned Blackberry, carpay is blackberry technology.

    Any articles on when apple will use wifi to mirror carplay istead of direct mirroring via lightning?

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      No word as yet, but I imagine wireless connectivity will happen pretty quickly. Pretty much all car systems use Bluetooth, so a wired connection looks rather old-hat.

      • danbridgland says:

        I suspect this is more to do with Maps and navigation than anything else. Any mobile device using cellular service to fetch map data and GPS for geolocation very quickly depletes the humble in-device battery.

        The perfect world solution would be in car wifi for cellular service and high speed two way comms, GPS feed from the car’s own built in GPS antenna, thus avoiding GPS thermal device build up and battery drain, and a mid console wireless charger so that you needn’t remove the device from your pocket! Perfect! Sign me up!

  14. As much as I like (and own) Apple products… room must be left for users of other devices (Android etc)

  15. zubeirg87 says:

    If Apple was to design the car’s UI itself, it would have to work with all the car manufacturers. I don’t think this is feasilble. Or they could make API’s that car manufacturers could use to control their cars system. This probably won’t happen because most probably car manufacturers are not gonna limit themselves to Apple which happens to be in minority in market share. So car manufacturers will continue making their UI’s the main one, and provide apps for different platforms to hook themselves to their system. Hence they can be open to all platforms.
    It can’t happen anyway else, because imagine someone not buying a car because it has iOS preinstalled, not his/her phone’s platform.

  16. I know that in order for CarPlay to be truly innovative and transformative car manufacturers need to allow Apple to do more. As it’s currently shown CarPlay appears to be one aspect of the car’s ‘infotainment’ system. I think that the current implementation needs reworking. It needs more apps. It needs api’s and sdk’s allowing any developer to add their app to the system – although Apple will need to be even more meticulous in approving apps. Only allowing those that can prove that they can safely improve the driving experience. (No Angry Birds allowed) On to the fact of Apple having to support Android and Windows phones – does nobody use BootCamp? Apple could implement a BootCamp option, allowing users to ‘reboot’ or enter a switcher interface – although not every time the car is turned on. In terms of Apple having to take into account every difference in every car out there, in order to take complete control of the OS – simply, wrong. I think in the same way that Apple has preloaded apps on the iPhone, they could pre-load apps from the manufacturer. This solves the App Store problem of having to allow car makers to put a ‘layer’ over it – Android, am I right? It also solves the problem of Apple having to build a bulky OS, that accounts for every car on the road that uses CarPlay. Car makers would simply build apps if they wanted to add something proprietary or special to their car. Of course, Apple would need to help them/contract the development of the app to Apple or they’ll look just as dreadful as they currently do.

    Tangent: I think the system should allow for a wireless connection to the iPhone. (This would be great if long range wireless charging was a ‘ready for market’ tech *wink* next couple of years *wink*) I also think that they should allow multiple phones to connect to the interface via multiple wireless connection or a combination of wired and wireless connections. So say if the address to the place you and your friend/you and your co-workers – CarPlay would automatically pull that address. It’d also allow for everyone to play music or to make calls to contacts that are not in the phone that is plugged in.

    In terms of the screen quality, right now Apple is just happy to be in cars – at all. Once manufacturers start seeing these cars sell well, and start hearing people demand CarPlay (Or more broadly demanding a smartphone quality OS in the car) then Apple can really take off and make CarPlay what it wants to be. I see Apple taking more of a controlled MFi program approach to this, requiring that car makers have a certain quality display in the car – whether that’s a Retina display or a newer tech is to be seen. (display-seen, get it?)

  17. giorgiopagliara says:

    My question is: The auto makers will receive this survey?
    Ben, please, I trust in you. :) :)

    In my opinion Apple tried to do what you and almost all of us are asking but auto makers declined the offers.

    One of the main several reasons for this is: not every one has an iPhone. Also Android, WP, … are on the market. :)
    One other reason is: what happen when the car is 10 years old? Will the iPhone still exist?
    Have I to maintain an old iPhone just to turn on the air conditioning of my car?

    …Or maybe have I to change my car at the same rate of my mobile device? (This would be the heaven for auto makers) :)

    Ben, I’m totally agree with you, I don’t like CarPlay as implemented today.
    But as an engineer I should say that here there are many big challenges to overcome.

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      The idea would be for Apple to design the UI – it wouldn’t need an iPhone to access the non-CarPlay functionality. As for car manufacturers seeing the survey, 9to5Mac has a sizeable readership …

  18. degraevesofie says:

    FWIW, the few Ferrari drivers I’ve seen around here tend to wear driving gloves. Maybe that’s why they went with a resistive screen. It sure would be nice if they could make it a hybrid capacitive/resistive screen instead…

  19. rtdunham says:

    [QUOTE]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….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.[/QUOTE]

    Using a ProClip mount and Navigon software, I use ny iPad mini for navigation. It’s still an experiment in development, with the wires not permanently routed and the software not mastered. But the ProClip loads like this: the iPad slides down into two brackets at the bottom, pushes back at the top until it clicks in place, then slides to the right to engage the fixed Lightning connector. It takes a fraction of the time it took you to read that. And removing it’s equally easy, though I don’t always take it out, depending on situational awareness.

    [IMG]http://www.albinotricolors.com/images/vwdashipad.jpg[/IMG]

  20. rtdunham says:

    [QUOTE]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….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.[/QUOTE]

    Using a ProClip mount and Navigon software, I use ny iPad mini for navigation. It’s still an experiment in development, with the wires not permanently routed and the software not mastered. But the ProClip loads like this: the iPad slides down into two brackets at the bottom, pushes back at the top until it clicks in place, then slides to the right to engage the fixed Lightning connector. It takes a fraction of the time it took you to read that. And removing it’s equally easy, though I don’t always take it out, depending on situational awareness.

    <a href="http://www.albinotricolors.com/images/vwdashipad.jpg&quot;

    • rtdunham says:

      First, my apologies for the coding errors. But you can see the link to go to for the photo.

      The poll seems to overlook something–or at least, those polled might be: the iPad solution is great, but it won’t integrate with the car’s commands and information, so you’re still running two screens; a car with a display controlled by iOS, including integration from that UI to the car’s controls and information, would be far more useful, practical, and safer.

      Now if each car’s own information could be reverse-engineered to the iPad, that would work too.

  21. With so many different auto companies involved with this, I am sure Ferrari wouldn’t want the same interface as Ford.

  22. Mark Granger says:

    Unless Apple gets into offline mapping, you won’t be very happy with Apple’s Maps app if you don’t have good cell phone coverage. I was wondering how they got around that until I found out that you could still access the standard offline maps provided by the car makers.

    • rtdunham says:

      Wouldn’t the car only have maps if it had nav? And doesn’t that defeat the purpose?

      But apps like NAVIGON download the maps to the iPad in advance so you’re not using data and you’re not missing coverage when you’re not in LTE zones.

  23. I really do like the new CarPlay interface, but Apple should make a head unit for all older cars (or maybe Pioneer will make a carplay radio). It sure looks much much better than Pioneer’s appradio. I had one, it worked OK, but it was never great.

    I got sick of it and just mounted an Ipad Mini Retina. Cost me around $45 in raw materials + a sony head unit.
    Check it out! http://youtu.be/GmofH9g59R0

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      It will indeed be interesting to see whether Apple licenses CarPlay to car stereo manufacturers. I’m sure it wants to, while car manufacturers will want to limit it to new cars to help drive sales.

  24. It’s a wonderful idea…. BUT there’s a huge problem with that plan. Cars platforms are built to last years. Car hardware like for example the touch screen and processor on an infotainment system is not updated every year. Not even close. These infotainment systems need to withstand weather conditions that iPhones and iPads cannot meet, they go through far more ridiculous regulations to get there and no one wants to pay for a separate car data plan. I know we all want an apple icar infotainment system, but trust me it would be far less appealing than you think. This is the best of both worlds. I don’t care about the settings menu on my television, I care about getting it to the Apple TV source so I can watch my shows. I don’t care about the car interface being made by apple, I just want access to carplay.

  25. How about just let cars be cars and Apple be Apple? Car manufacturers can focus on what they do best and iOS be iOS. What if you can use your iPad in the car, at home and at work? What if there is already a prototype of such running around on the road everyday? Would you be interest?

  26. “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.”

    Not possible. Nevada has laws regarding vehicle electronics which state that in-car entertainment systems, including, but not limited to GPS systems are illegal to operate while driving unless they are installed in such as fashion as to be non-removable. If you have an iPad behind a bezel where you can’t remove it, that’s fine. But docks are not permissible.

    So removable electronics are not a 50-state legal option.

  27. zubeirg87 says:

    It might also mean Apple designing software that runs car hardware just like Apple makes software that runs its own hardware. Then just like Apple masters its own hardware pretty well, it would also require them to master cars hardware. I doubt them going into it. They would not want that hassle.
    In fact Apple does not makes software that runs others’ hardware, they only makes software that runs their own.