One of the best parts about Apple Stores is the ability to try out Apple products out of the box in an environment superior to big box retail stores. While that’s mostly true of almost all Apple products including Apple Watches, there’s one really compelling Apple product that I haven’t seen on demo at any Apple Stores: CarPlay.
If you want to try out CarPlay for yourself right now before spending some serious money, the easiest way is to find a car dealer with a CarPlay model available and go for a test drive. But there are a few ways Apple could bring most of the experience to customers in its retail stores …
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CarPlay is a feature hidden inside iPhones that requires special infotainment systems in new cars or aftermarket displays to be unlocked. Connect your iPhone to a Lightning cable in the car (or wireless eventually) and see important apps like Phone, Messages, Maps, and Music appear on the car’s display. CarPlay relies on Siri for almost all text input and relaying messages, and the iPhone ignores alerts from all other apps to create a distraction-free experience.
The most obvious way Apple could demo CarPlay is to do exactly what Best Buy already does: set up demo units of car displays that work with CarPlay. If you walk into the back of a Best Buy store to the auto department, you’ll likely find working aftermarket car displays from Pioneer and others on the wall where you can actually connect your iPhone and see CarPlay in action … sort of.
The problem with this solution is it’s only a little better than reading about CarPlay online or watching a video of it in action. A screen fixed to a wall at eye level running CarPlay isn’t a very compelling demo. And Apple doesn’t sell aftermarket displays directly either (although maybe it should!), probably because the best CarPlay experiences are in new cars with tighter hardware integration.
The more complex but less compromised solution is to actually have a car with a working CarPlay system in stores. We saw an Apple Store design with glass doors wide enough to drive a car through in Apple’s 60 Minutes spot in December, and the Apple Store in Dubai already features this design. If Apple’s work on an electric vehicle ever turns into an actual shipping product, Apple Stores could use the practice of working around a floor model car and the logistics of putting it on display.
Apple has plenty of CarPlay partners with real cars at this point, too, so finding a good candidate wouldn’t be too difficult. Apple Stores could even opt for a battery-powered vehicle like the Chevy Volt hybrid Seth and I tested at CES this year. Its 8-inch capacitive touch display offered a much better CarPlay demo than a screen fixed to a wall, and there’s the benefit of being battery-powered. Easy to maintain in a store setting.
But you don’t even need an entire car to properly demonstrate CarPlay to an iPhone user … just the driver’s seat and part of the dashboard. Apple could present an arcade-style driving simulator where you can actually get behind the wheel and see CarPlay in action … and make Apple Stores a little more fun in the process! Remember how exciting cars at WWDC 2014 were?
Modern Apple Stores are plenty large inside and could probably sacrifice an extra iPad table to draw more attention to the iPhone using CarPlay as a strategy, but even smaller Apple Stores in malls could potentially use real cars to demonstrate the iPhone feature.
Local auto dealers typically have floor models on display in malls for advertising. It’d be a complex, logistical hurdle to work through, but while we’re spit balling here, considering the possibility of Apple working with a CarPlay partner to park a car in view of the Apple Store where customers can see CarPlay in action in a real car you can buy today.
Obviously demoing CarPlay isn’t a top priority for Apple, but the feature is getting better with every iOS update, especially iOS 9.3 which adds full Apple Music support and much better Maps features, and the iPhone could use all the help it can get if Apple wants to maintain growth in the category. Parking a car in an Apple Store would certainly draw some new eyeballs, be good practice for the eventual Apple Car, and let customers try CarPlay in action just like iPhones, iPads, and Macs.