CarPlay: The Best Incarnation of Apple’s Ecosystem

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.

Published by

Carolina Milanesi

Carolina is a Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc, a market intelligence and strategy consulting firm based in Silicon Valley and recognized as one of the premier sources of quantitative and qualitative research and insights in tech. At Creative Strategies, Carolina focuses on consumer tech across the board. From hardware to services, she analyzes today to help predict and shape tomorrow. In her prior role as Chief of Research at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, she drove thought leadership research by marrying her deep understanding of global market dynamics with the wealth of data coming from ComTech’s longitudinal studies on smartphones and tablets. Prior to her ComTech role, Carolina spent 14 years at Gartner, most recently as their Consumer Devices Research VP and Agenda Manager. In this role, she led the forecast and market share teams on smartphones, tablets, and PCs. She spent most of her time advising clients from VC firms, to technology providers, to traditional enterprise clients. Carolina is often quoted as an industry expert and commentator in publications such as The Financial Times, Bloomberg, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. She regularly appears on BBC, Bloomberg TV, Fox, NBC News and other networks. Her Twitter account was recently listed in the “101 accounts to follow to make Twitter more interesting” by Wired Italy.

17 thoughts on “CarPlay: The Best Incarnation of Apple’s Ecosystem”

  1. I am loving CarPlay myself. The biggest surprise for me was when it turned down the fan that was running full blast to hear me speak better, and then turned it back full when my speaking was done. It’s an interesting balance of providing service by voice and not showing it on the screen, which I would get to see if I dash mounted my phone. Overall, I’d suggest more tech fans should rationalize a new car purchase just to get CarPlay (despite how ridiculous that sounds)!

  2. “Apple needs to find a way to lower that adoption barrier for CarPlay so as to speed up adoption.”

    I suspect this is a tall order if you want a seamlessly integrated system. And if it was at all possible without comprising on the user experience, Apple would have done it already.

    1. I would think it might require a different business model. If vendors need to lower the hardware prices than something has to give

  3. First of all Ms Milanesi, your Suburban is a Truck Based SUV- not a car. Just like my Trek Bike is not a motorcycle.

    CarPlay has some serious issues starting with the lack of third party apps. One of the few Tune-In Radio (+the Pro version) seemingly breaks every time Apple releases an update to iOS. Few iOS app developers have made the jump to CarPlay, the big question being what is holding up progress? I would love to see Apple allow map plugins for CarPlay that would overlay live weather radar data on the Apple Maps display for those who must drive in nasty weather. I have an iOS App that allows subscription based live Radar data that would be a great help if it could get on CarPlay.

    Apple Maps is still pretty lame on Navigation and on location based recommendations. A new Bridge on a US Highway that I regularly drive and has been open for months is still not on CarPlay’s navigation. The ability of Apple Maps to recommend based upon local recent activity is polluted by it’s aggressive seeking of data in your emails. The routing is not very good compared to Google even after all this time. I can be a mile from a YMCA I go to 5 times a week but if I do a Siri search for YMCA I get seemingly random results from cities far away.

    Another Siri gripe is that the car’s built in voice recognition is more accurate than Siri even though they both use the same microphones in the same car with the same driver. Apple has some homework to do.

    The ability to play tunes content has been ruined by Apple’s push of it’s rental music service that I have no interest in. Apple needs to fix iTunes, iOS Music and the way the content is handled on CarPlay.

    As to price, not all manufacturers charge for CarPlay. Volkswagen gives it away on their standard radio and I am sure they are not alone.

    I really want CarPlay to work well as both a long time Apple customer and shareholder. CarPlay holds a lot of promise but seems to suffer from the same neglect as the Macintosh. Apple has more than enough money and staff to walk and chew gum at the same time, so the glacial pace of improvement of CarPlay and HomeKit is unacceptable.

  4. My early experience was similar to yours although I have a 3rd party unit so it felt slightly less magical (no automatic quieting of fans for example). The barrier to entry is actually higher than you note for 3rd party solutions as the price of a CarPlay capable head unit is only part of the cost. Mine cost $600 at retail but installation+wiring harnesses+dash kit+sales tax brought the out-the-door cost to about $1100. You could buy it cheaper on Amazon and install it yourself but pulling car dashes apart and mucking around with car electrical systems isn’t something that 99% of car owners are going to do.

    Another MIA piece is wireless. There was a lot of buzz about it back when CarPlay was announced but it has never showed up. Plugging and unplugging the cable gets old if you make a lot of short trips. A CarPlay capable unit might have Bluetooth but CarPlay doesn’t use it.

    As mentioned, 3rd party app support is weak. Perhaps because of Apple limits on the kind of apps that can be supported or perhaps because developers don’t see the value. Even some popular podcast apps don’t support it and listening to podcasts in a car is obvious and popular.

    I love CarPlay but the missing pieces are both frustrating and puzzling.

    1. there is certainly more work to be done but i thought it was interesting as an early view of what an end to end experience could look like

      1. Like HomeKit, CarPlay is interesting and promising. The challenge is that Apple’s pace of improvement is glacial as they seem to to tie improvements in all their software products to the annual OS update cycle with only occasional exceptions. HomeKit is going to take 5 more years at this rate to have the basic functionality that products like Samsung SmartThings have today.

        Software applications continue to be Apple’s weak point. They treat it like hardware where you launch it but do nothing more with it except critical fixes until the next big launch. It’s absurd that we only see new versions of apps as part of OS updates.

  5. I have CarPlay on a 2017 Chevy Volt, and it’s best use is to play podcasts and iHeart radio stations. But the car has such an excellent navigation system built in, that using Apple Maps is a disappointment. Much less detail, hard to read and low contrast. And the first time I used it by searching for a known restaurant, it came up with the wrong address. The phone function is adequate, but not as good as the one built in that has a much more informative displayed. Unfortunately, when you enable CarPlay by plugging in the phone, it turns off BT, not letting you use the car’s phone software.

    1. how long ago did you use Maps? I am curious as I made up my mind very early that it was not for me and I was surprised how far Apple has come. Not quite on par with Google but way way better than it used to be. Also surprised you like the on car navigation i hated mine with passion from the voice to the timing of the directions but all of that is very personal of course

      1. The GM Volt Nav system is so much better than anything else I have tried, including BMW, Lexus, Toyota and Mazda. A real surpise. Very high resolution and contrast. Switching to CarPlay replaced the maps with a less detailed, lower rez and harder to read map.

        Apple Maps have improved, but I was startled to find the address of a restaurant that’s been in the same location for 15 years to be placed at the same street number, but on a nearby street in a nearby town. I used the built in report tool to send the corrected address to Apple and a few days later it showed the correct street address, but in another nearby town.

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