The days of frustrating in-car interfaces and clunky touchscreens are ending, as computing giants Apple and Google start unleashing the full power of smartphone technology in your car.
Apple has fired the opening salvo in the war on wheels with its ‘CarPlay’ system launched at the 2014 Geneva Motor Show and offered by Ferrari, Mercedes and Volvo, and at least 15 other car brands. If you own an iPhone, you’ll find CarPlay natural and intuitive – it’s this type of familiarity that car companies and Apple are banking on to win you over. Cars have been able to play your iTunes library and read texts for a while, but CarPlay takes this functionality to a whole new level.
How your iPhone powers your car's entertainment system
With CarPlay, you won’t need a sat-nav, because Apple Maps is relayed on your car’s screen. You won’t be restricted to the tunes in your iPhone, because you’ll be able to access all your Cloud-stored music (and conceivably films and photos), or stream Spotify. There’ll be internet access, the ability to download apps, more free-form voice control, and more. And the icons and interface will be familiar from your iPhone.
For Apple and Google, your car is the next digital frontier. It’s the place where drivers can’t deeply interact with their smartphones, but the computing giants want to change that by offering user-friendly, simple and intuitive infotainment systems. And it’s another way for them to influence your phone choice, and sell you apps and services.
‘The car is like the second lounge room, with the amount of time people spend there, and this presents a big opportunity,’ says T3 magazine’s Kieran Alger.
Volvo vows to be at the leading edge of CarPlay: it’ll be plumbed into the new XC90 arriving this autumn. ‘It’s not about replacing a car’s functionality, it’s about extending it,’ says Volvo’s connectivity brand manager, David Holecek. But what if you haven’t got an iPhone? You can wire your Android phone up to Volvo’s in-car interface, but you won’t be able to unlock so many features. Clunkily, your iPhone will also have to be physically attached, and it has to be by lightning cable and to an iPhone 5.
Ford, which has a long-standing supply deal with Microsoft, paints itself as ‘device agnostic’. ‘The lifecycle of a car is much longer than a smartphone’s,’ says Ford’s director of connected services, Jo Beiser. ‘We’ll work with a number of systems; we’re not gambling on one tech.’ For Ferrari, CarPlay is a natural fit – some 90% of its customers are Apple junkies.
Android's rival to Apple CarPlay
Google is working on a rival to CarPlay, but it’s yet to fully show its hand. It has formed the Open Automotive Alliance, and Audi, Hyundai and General Motors have all signed up: the first cars with the system arrive this year.
Are consumers in danger of getting stuck with the in-car infotainment equivalent of Betamax video? After all, the consumer electronics industry moves at a frantic pace compared to the automotive business, with most new car tech locked down three years ahead of landing in your driveway. To solve this, car makers are adept at offering software updates to help futureproof your car. Hopefully that’ll mean cars that don’t feel years behind your latest smartphone, with seamless integration and no compromises.
So who’s going to win the war – Apple or Android?’ ‘It’s really early days,’ says T3’s Alger. ‘But if it’s about being first, Apple’s ahead.’ And who’s nailed it out of Ferrari, Merc or Volvo? ‘Volvo has done it best – its system feels the most natural and Apple-like in its intuitiveness’. Over to you then, Google…
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