The relationship between smartphones (and tablets) and cars is arguably the primary front line in consumer technology currently. Mobile devices have become integral within our daily lives, providing us with access to entertainment, information and other content wherever we are, whenever we want. However interacting with a phone in-car can at best be considered distracting, and in many countries simply illegal.
The dilemma for the car industry is that drivers want to be able to use their phones and access content in-car. We want to be able to do so with the same ease of use that the phones themselves offer.
Unfortunately this has not happened yet thanks to a lack of a common way of connecting mobile devices to the car. The closest we’ve seen to date has been MirrorLink, a standard which is supported by several major car manufacturers including VW and Honda, as well as some of the largest phone vendors, most noticeably Samsung and Nokia.
The glaring problem is that MirrorLink is not supported by everyone, and most critically that includes Apple who announced their own solution for iPhone and iPad last summer: iOS in the Car. Meanwhile back in January at the Consumer Electronics Show, Google announced their own initiative for Android: the Open Automotive Alliance.
So there’s still no common way for cars and smartphones to connect.
Apple officially announced at the Geneva International Motor Show 2014 a new name for iOS In The Car: “CarPlay” to enable seamless access to certain iOS features through in-car infotainment system ‘head units’. As with MirrorLink and the Open Automotive Alliance, the primary goal is to provide access to content in a non-distracting driver-friendly manner, however Apple’s initial implementation seems somewhat limited initially. Firstly it requires the device to be connected using a lightening cable, which rules-out iPhone 4S and iPad 3, although Honda suggested that WiFi support will come soon. It will be available with new cars from an impressive number of leading brands, but not all – most noticeably VW who have previously stated their support for MirrorLink, and surprisingly Tesla, despite their being considered a possible acquisition target for Apple recently.
The main limitations at launch though is the services that CarPlay will support. These consist simply of core iOS apps including iPod, iTunes Radio, iMessage, Phone and of course Apple Maps. All controlled by Siri voice commands, touch screens and dials. A small number of additional independent music playing apps will also be available, but compared with the choice of apps on the iTunes app store it seems sparse.
We expect that drivers will want to access a much wider range of apps when driving. Of course these should require additional certification for safe in-car use to minimize distraction on the road and avoid unnecessary interaction while driving. We think in particular that drivers will want a choice of alternative navigation solutions to the standard Apple Maps app, whether to access offline maps, enjoy advanced car navigation features like lane guidance and safety camera warnings, or purely for comprehensive street map coverage in their region.
We are already optimising CoPilot’s guidance display to better support automotive-grade in-car infotainment standards, and we were excited to be able to demo MirrorLink at Mobile World Congress in February. We hope we’ll have an opportunity to extend the CoPilot experience to CarPlay too.
In the meantime, the fact remains: different smartphone platforms connect to cars in different ways., and that seems unlikely to change soon. Car manufacturers will probably need offer infotainment systems that support multiple standards. The alternative would be to risk alienating a significant number of smartphone owning prospective buyers.
Will car buyers choose their car based on the smartphone they own or the other way round? The wrestling match between the car and smartphone industry looks set to enter a new dimension, yet will likely remain unresolved in the foreseeable future.