It's no secret that I'm a massive fan of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay – when I review a new car pretty much the first thing I do is plug in my phone and set up these apps. It turns out I'm not alone, because last night at WWDC 2022 Apple stated 79-percent of US buyers would only consider CarPlay-capable vehicles.
They have both fundamentally changed the way people interact with their vehicles.
Last night, Apple also unveiled some massive upgrades coming to CarPlay, giving us a glimpse of the next-generation system that is deeply integrated with a car’s hardware.
At the moment, CarPlay is simply a phone mirroring app that runs on top of your car's existing system, but the next-generation CarPlay will be able to provide content for multiple screens within the vehicle and allow you to do things like control the radio or change the climate.
This sounds similar to Google's Android Automotive system which runs on the vehicle’s processor and can control everything in the vehicle. It doesn't require your phone to be connected and there's no alternative system in the car – Android Automotive is all you interact with.
The benefit of having this built-in system is that the system can not only control your entertainment but also many of the car’s own features. It creates an experience that is unified and consistent.
This is the opposite of what Android Auto and Apple CarPlay currently offer – they're perfect when it comes to playing music and navigation, but if you want to change a vehicle setting you'd have to quit the apps and switch to the car's operating system.
Another issue is that these apps don't run on multiple screens, so while the main display might be showing you Google maps navigation, the navigation on the digital display behind the steering wheel will be showing the car's native mapping app.
The next generation of Apple CarPlay will fix this, as it can use the vehicle data to seamlessly render the speed, fuel level, temperature, and more on the instrument cluster.
Whether or not this will run alongside your vehicle's OS or replace it remains to be seen, but either way, I expect this new system will need its own processor built into the vehicle – it seems way too intensive to run on an iPhone.
The WWCD keynote even showed the numerous ways you can personalise your driving experience by choosing different gauge cluster designs, and with added support for widgets, you can have at-a-glance information from Weather and Music right on their car’s dashboard.
It all looked very impressive and was certainly my highlight of the presentation (yes, it's even better than heart rate zones in watchOS 9).
What worries me, however, is that all cars will start to feel the same inside. This level of uniformity is great when you're shopping for a new iPhone and you know that it'll work exactly like the old one, but isn't so good in a more varied industry where competition is tight and brand identity is important. It would seem strange if you got exactly the same software experience in a Citroen and a Mercedes, for example.
This is the reason I imagine the stat that 79-percent of US buyers would only consider CarPlay-capable vehicles must really annoy the car manufacturers, as many were reluctant to adopt Android Auto and Apple CarPlay in the first place. It was seen as giving up territory and brand identity in a key area that drivers focus on. In the same way, people get locked into using iOS or Android, automotive brands hope you get locked into iDrive, MMI or MBUX.
Going further, I worry this could even stifle innovation. Will car manufacturers give up developing their own infotainment systems and software and simply rely on Apple and Google in the future? I hope not…
Apple has said more information about the next generation of CarPlay will be shared in the future, and vehicles will start to be announced late next year – I've also reached out to several manufacturers listed as partners, none of which have any news to share yet.