Why I Fear Apple CarPlay

on March 10, 2014

I am excited by Apple CarPlay. But mostly terrified. 

Excited, because I love constant, unbroken access to my phone, music, apps, maps, search, contacts, tweets, email — everything on my smartphone, in fact.

Terrified, because I have significant doubts that CarPlay will make driving safer, as Apple suggests. In fact, I fear it will do exactly the opposite.

Not for me, of course, I’m an excellent driver. Rather, for you and the millions of others out there traveling on the same roads as me. I have doubts that your use of Siri and iTunes and Maps and texting and calling and, ultimately, Yelp and Twitter and Facebook and everything else you will want to do will make you a safer driver.

Confession: I probably have more faith in Apple than in any other company on the planet to provide the simplest, most intuitive, least distracting interface between smartphone — and everything that it contains — and car. But there are significant caveats.

How safe can these solutions be? Ever? Tech companies and car companies certainly want us to believe they are safe. Google said nearly the same thing as Apple last year when it announced the Open Automotive Alliance: “making technology in the car safer, more seamless and more intuitive for everyone.”

I am not convinced.

I believe the following:

The more apps, information, content, and data at our fingertips, the more tools at our disposal — that are in NO WAY related to the act of driving – the more our focus on driving is diminished. This reduces safety.

I fear a fundamental Apple strength could come back to harm us. To wit: The hallmark of Apple products is not that they are intuitive, rather that they are enticing. Watch an iPhone user. They can’t seem to stop themselves, ever, from checking, tweeting, texting, calling, looking, reading, listening, scanning, scrolling.

Now put that into a car.

Yes, I know CarPlay is by Apple and Apple has four decades of experience creating amazing hardware and intuitive operating systems. There are two obvious roadblocks:

  1. Apple has extraordinarily little say in any car’s actual hardware
  2. The entirety of Apple’s existence has been on focusing our (full) attention onto its screens

I don’t want your focus to be on the screen! You are driving a car!

What’s that? You promise to only use the paddles on the steering wheel and to expedite all interactions via voice? Question: How often has Siri worked for you without error?

25% of the time? 50%? 90%? And that was when you had your hand on the iPhone screen and your mind fully focused on the (non-driving) Siri-related task at hand. The fact is, despite millions of dollars in advertising and years of effort, Siri continues to have painfully clear limitations.

I cannot believe that I am the only one that has such misgivings about CarPlay. And, yet, following Apple’s announcement…

The New York Times happily noted that “Apple’s CarPlay Captivates The Auto Industry.”

Forbes cheered Apple’s “powerful play to seize the dash.”

AutoNews proclaimed “CarPlay is smart but simple.”

I can only hope. I am disappointed, however, that they appear to have glossed over the very real safety concerns we all should have about CarPlay (and all similar efforts). In their statement officially announcing CarPlay, Apple endeavors to put us at ease. CarPlay is:

designed from the ground up to provide drivers with an incredible experience using their iPhone in the car

Is this true?

After all, every single car maker will continue to have complete control over their dash, their buttons, their type of screen, their steering wheel and how they integrate CarPlay. Oh, and they must simultaneously make sure to configure their settings in such a way that the vast majority of drivers — those without iPhone — can also operate everything effectively.

Not to worry, Apple says:

Users can easily control CarPlay from the car’s native interface or just push-and-hold the voice control button on the steering wheel to activate Siri without distraction.

I’m still not convinced. To me, this screams complexity — and thus distraction: native interface, steering wheel controls, Siri. Now add your mother behind the wheel.

It gets worse:

iPhone users always want their content at their fingertips and CarPlay lets drivers use their iPhone in the car with minimized distraction.

Yes, we do want all the wonderful content from our iPhones at our fingertips. My smartphone is rarely more than an arm’s length away. This does not mean we should allow it to be accessible while we are driving! In fact, the more I read from Apple’s own PR statement, the more worried I become. Parse this:

Apple has led consumer technology integration in the car for more than a decade.

What? Where? I’ve hooked up the cable television in my home but I don’t claim to have a decade’s experience in the entertainment industry. Implementing iOS in the car is a completely new endeavor, and for drivers, a completely new experience.

Putting more apps, more content into our cars, telling ourselves that it’s fine because Siri can manage it all — I simply do not believe this, not yet, and will not take part in what I consider be nothing more than a consensual hallucination.

Go to Apple’s very own CarPlay “coming soon” website. Remember, every single auto maker will implement this differently, with different knobs, different buttons, different screen types, different paddles, different layouts, different response modes. Yet, even using Apple’s own imagery, CarPlay appears to aggressively demand your focus.

Here’s just a sampling:




Do Apple’s very own pictures look either distraction-free or Siri-optimized? Now imagine 10,000 drivers with this. Or 1 million. Or 30 million.

Despite my fears, my concerns, I must be fair in my judgment of CarPlay. I have not used it, only seen it demonstrated. When it comes to developing intuitive touch and voice interfaces, Apple has led the way. Moreover, I doubt any car maker will do a better job of crafting a more intuitive, less distracting ‘infotainment’ system. Furthermore, Apple has so far restricted what they will allow offered via CarPlay. iTunes, Siri, Maps and a few other third-party apps, such as Beats, Spotify, iHeartRadio. No Yelp, no Twitter or Facebook. No WhatsApp. 

Unfortunately, I simply do not believe this will remain the case. As the National Safety Council has stated, “the auto industry and the consumer electronics industry are really in an arms race to see how we can enable drivers to do stuff other than driving.” We mere mortals will no doubt demand more apps, more services, more entertainment, and if Apple doesn’t deliver we will turn to Android or some other provider for our fix.  

Perhaps our focus should instead be on preventing access to all of the things, not enabling it.

Aegis Mobility is one of several companies that offer solutions for organizations with car and truck fleets, solutions specifically designed to prevent drivers from accessing their phones while driving. This is good for the driver, obviously, good for the company — good for all of us, in fact. Their tools detect movements, limit what phones can do during a driver’s work hours, or whenever the vehicle is in motion, can prohibit certain functions, such as texting. Try and skirt these barriers and you just may find yourself out of work. Perhaps we should demand this of ourselves and of every other driver, rather than promoting access to evermore data and entertainment.

There are over 1 billion cars on the road. Drivers are more distracted than ever before.  We are hurtling down the wrong path. There’s still time to turn back.