CarPlay: The Best Incarnation of Apple’s Ecosystem

on October 12, 2016

Apple is making a car. The code name is “Project Titan.” Apple brings back Bob Mansfield from retirement to lead the project. Apple lays off dozens of employees who were presumably working on the car project that was never confirmed. Apple might no longer be making a car. There! You are all caught up on the months of speculation around Apple and cars!

What I do know for sure is Apple is in my car today. A new car I have had now for about 10 days. A totally unnecessary purchase justified by the fact that my old car – a 2014 Suburban – was not technologically savvy enough. Now, I have the 2016 model and it does all sorts of things for me — warning me about lane departures, making my seat vibrate when a car or pedestrian is approaching me while reversing, and showing me the direction with a big red arrow on my screen. The most interesting part, however, is having CarPlay and Android Auto.

As I am currently using an iPhone 7 Plus, I tried out CarPlay and the results are quite interesting.

I have been using Google Maps pretty much since I got to the US four years ago. My old car had a navigation system but I hated it so I was using my phone with a Bluetooth connection. I had tried Apple Maps when it first came out but went back to Google and soon got used to certain features, such as the multi-lane turn as well as the exact timing of the command. I got comfortable with it and, aside from trying out HereWeGo and Waze, I have been pretty much happy with Google.

Having CarPlay made me rediscover Maps and features like where I parked my car, the suggested travel time to home or school or the office, suggestions based on routine or calendar information — all pleasant surprises that showed me what I had been missing out. It also showed me how, by fully embracing the ecosystem, you receive greater benefits. Having the direction clearly displayed on the large car screen was better and, while there is still a little bit of uneasiness about not using Google Maps, I have now switched over. Maps on Apple Watch just completes the car experience as the device gently taps you as you need to make the turn. It is probably the best example I have seen thus far of devices working together to deliver an enhanced experience vs. one device taking over the other.

Music has been in my car thanks to a subscription to Sirius XM but, at home, we also have an Apple Music subscription as well as Amazon Prime Music. With CarPlay, my music starts to play in the car as soon as the phone is connected and, despite my husband’s initial resistance, this past weekend, he was converted. He asked Siri to play Rancid and he was somewhat surprised when one of his favorite songs came on. My daughter is also happily making requests to Siri and everybody catching a ride is quite relieved not to be subjected to Kidz Bop Radio non-stop.

The best feature, however, is having Siri read and compose text messages for you. I know I can do that outside my car as well but I rarely do, because, well frankly, I don’t have to: typing serves me just fine. When I interact with Siri, the exchange feels very transactional, i ask a question I get an answer and that is it. The car is the perfect storm when it comes to getting you hooked on voice commands. You are not supposed to be texting and driving, the space is confined, and there is little background noise as the music is turned off when you speak (I have to admit a switch to turn off the kids would be nice too). Siri (she) gets commands and messages right 90% of the time which gets me to use her more. Interestingly, it is also the time where I have a more natural, more conversational, exchange with Siri:

Siri: There is a new message from XYZ would you like me to read it to you?
Me: Yes, please.
Siri: (reads message)
Siri: Would you like to respond
Me: Yes
Siri: Go ahead
Me: Yada Yada Yada
Siri: You are replying Yada Yada Yada, ready to send?
Me: Yes

At the end, you have a pretty satisfied feeling of having achieved what you wanted and not once moving your eyes from the road ahead.

Our Voice Assistant survey did show a preference for consumers to use their voice assistant in the car. Fifty-one percent of the US consumers we interviewed said they do, so I am clearly not alone. I would argue that interacting through car speakers vs the phone – assuming you are not holding the phone to your mouth which would not be hands-free – gives you higher fidelity and therefore a better, more engaging experience.

While we wait for autonomous cars (maybe even one by Apple) to take over and leave us free to either work or play while we go from point A and B, it is understandable that CarPlay stays limited to functions that complement your driving but do not interfere with your concentration. That said, I think there is a lot of room for Apple to deliver a smarter experience in the car if it accesses more information from the car and the user. Suggesting a gas station when the gas indicator goes below a certain point, suggesting a place to park when we get to our destination, or a restaurant if we are driving somewhere where we have not been before and are close to lunch time. The possibilities are many.

The problem with CarPlay is it relies on consumers upgrading their cars to one of the over 100 models available or integrating CarPlay kits — which range from just under $200 to over $700 depending on brand and quality. This is a steep price to pay when you are not quite sure what the return on your investment will be. Apple needs to find a way to lower that adoption barrier for CarPlay so as to speed up adoption. The more users experience CarPlay, the easier it will be to get them to take the next step when it comes to cars, whether an Apple-branded car or a fuller Apple experience in the car.