Why I Fear Apple CarPlay

Brian S Hall / March 10th, 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:

screen_music_2x

control_touch_2x

control_knob_2x

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. 

Brian S Hall

Brian S Hall writes about mobile devices, crowdsourced entertainment, and the integration of cars and computers. His work has been published with Macworld, CNBC, Wall Street Journal, ReadWrite and numerous others. Multiple columns have been cited as "must reads" by AllThingsD and Re/Code and he has been blacklisted by some of the top editors in the industry. Brian has been a guest on several radio programs and podcasts.
  • jfutral

    I agree that distracted driving is only a click away. But I wonder how this compares to what drivers are already doing? Which would be more distracting? Having this integrated? Or, as is done now, having the iPhone, any smartphone, in your hands, or trying to reach for it, fumbling around with it while you hold it, looking for the right icon to click, etc., etc. This is already a very real, clear, and present danger, right now, as you drive around today. That is why everyone keeps passing laws and enforcing existing laws about distracted driving.

    WIll things actually be _worse_? I guess that depends on what the car will actually allow in terms of functionality from an iPhone. Will I actually be able to access Yelp, Facebook, or texting while it is connected to the car? And if those functions aren’t accessible once it is connected, will I even bother to connect? Is voice control, no matter Siri’s in/fallibility, really any less distracting? Those are the kind of things that will actually decide safety, I suppose. I mean, people were dying in auto related accidents when we were just swapping out cassettes.

    Good article, as always,
    Joe

    • klahanas

      I would venture to say that the iPhone’s, now ubiquitous, simpler, interface is safer than most in dash entertainment systems. There should be top level regulation (government) on controls however. No apps that can’t be voice or steering wheel controlled on both input and output. The auto industry is highly regulated after all.

      On touch…When we went touch, paradoxically we lost texture. You can’t feel around for the controls.

      • Vicky Bro

        Good paradox. I remember those days when we used to text on numpad keyboards on feature phones without even looking at them. Now touch screen made it all impossible. Such will be the situation in cars too. Many controls can be recognized and interacted with by the feeling of its texture, while a touch screen would kill that too.

    • Mark Jones

      Agree; what is the baseline that we should be comparing to CarPlay? 2007 pre-iPhone? or 2014 with smartphones held in hands?

      CarPlay’s limited apps specifically attempt to limit it to what is already in your car — GPS navigation and music/radio/satellite radio. I’ve been led to believe from other’s reports that iMessaging can only be done through Siri, i.e., fully audio, no text display – is that true?

      By the way, Apple’s “more than a decade” of “consumer technology integration” experience involved integrating iPod.

      • Good comment.
        Integrating iPod is, in my view, radically different than creating CarPlay.

        • Mark Jones

          In many ways, radically different given the potentially vastly greater (though for now, limited exposed) iPhone functionality. But in terms of personnel focusing on how best to integrate a handheld electronic device so as to minimize driving distractions, exactly the same.

    • “WIll things actually be _worse_?”

      Yes – if only in terms of “more”. Carplay will allow this interaction to be more popular and ubiquitous, therefore increasing the number of people who could be distracted by it.

      • Mark Jones

        You’re assuming multiple unstated things:
        1. People aren’t already using their smartphones in the car — held in their hand.
        2. Apple won’t be smart about how they integrate additional apps – If iMessage is audio only, will other messaging be audio only? (If you ban audio, what will you do about drivers talking with other people in their car?)
        3. Other car-smartphone integration (Google, QNX) won’t occur, or will do it better.

    • Vicky Bro

      True. I see many people get hooked on to their phones as soon as they hit the brakes.

  • Rene Stein

    These articles have to be held in perspective. You have to compare this to what came before it. They were using your phone itself (less safe), using the native car infotainment interfaces (which generally sucked and were harder to use, less safe), or using the fiddly buttons and crap that used to make up car radios and what not (maybe about the same safeness, I don’t really know). It seems that having a good UI would make looking down to the dash take up less time and make the driver more safe.

    • Perhaps. There is ultimately so much more we can do (that is not driving) once our smartphones and content are ‘integrated’ into the vehicle. Seems to me it’s another excuse to not pay attention to driving.

  • krabbie

    I think you give todays drives very little credit. Haven’t you witnessed women putting mascara on in the fast lane? or people stuffing burgers in the lane next to you. You survived. There will be a learning curve to the new devises but there will be in any car, like where is the gas door pull, or the spare tire, or how do you get the defroster going. You give Apple some credit but still have been on a anti Apple flight since you switched to a Windows phone. Don’t trust, won’t use it, lack of safety. Handhelds are LESS SAFE than voice or paddles or buttons on wheel or dash. PERIOD. Move on or I can bet you will still do the analog thingie with your phone which is right beside you, like touching it? If you want more personal safety, put your phone in Airplane mode during your ride, you will be as safe as you can be.

    • “I think you give todays drives very little credit.”

      Speaking from the POV of a motorcyclist, a large percentage (not a majority) of today’s drivers don’t deserve any more credit than what Brian gives them.

      Riding a motorcycle is scary and dangerous. Riding a motorcycle with drivers distracted by *anything* is terrifying and often deadly.

      • Krabbie

        I agree hundred percent motorcyclists are invisible to motorists in general but that’s why I stop driving or riding motorcycles 30 years ago what I was trying to get out was the lesser of two weasels and the one weasel is the handheld way that the author said he was going to continue to do and not try the new digital way of communicating which is worse and which is the lesser of two weasels

        • jo

          um, evils…not weasels.

          • stefnagel

            Edsels

      • GlennC777

        I have to disagree, just a little bit. The reflex tends to be to complain about bad driving, but hordes of cars and other vehicles manage to share crowded streets every day all over the world and the really remarkable thing, to me, is how rarely things go wrong. That is partly because the system is built in a way that offers multiple buffers to keep things from going wrong even after a mistake is made, and partly because most drivers, most of the time, are actually fairly decent.

        Put me in the camp that says drivers will ALWAYS be willing to push the limits of what they can do while driving, partly because these buffers give such large margins of safety in ordinary conditions that it will always be tempting to use up a small portion of that margin; and partly because the benefit of turning those hours behind the wheel into productive time is too big to ignore. I doubt anybody commenting on this thread has never once given in to the temptation to text a quick one-word reply to an important query while driving, for example. Anything that makes doing those things easier and safer and, when possible, hands-free, will very likely improve safety. It also lets people be productive and do things they obviously want to do, which shouldn’t be ignored.

  • N.A.

    The article says “My smartphone is rarely more than an arm’s length away.”

    So this means your smartphone is in the car with you. Is it any worse if your smartphone is an arm’s length away in the dash, than if it’s an arm’s length away in the seat beside you? (If you put your phone in Airplane mode during your ride, you could disable CarPlay, too.)

    Given that most people probably have the same behavior as you, I don’t really see why CarPlay is any more dangerous than having your smartphone next to you in the car, and that may be how Apple views the product as well.

    • I hope you and other commenters are right — that this makes us safer than our current reality. I have serious doubts.

      • N.A.

        You say you’re “terrified” of CarPlay but you haven’t explained why it’s any more dangerous than your own practice of having your smartphone at arm’s length when you’re driving – which you don’t describe as terrifying. You say “I’m an excellent driver” but you’re worried about “the millions of others out there.”

        So your real fear isn’t about CarPlay at all. It’s about every driver on the road that isn’t you.

        • I absolutely believe that you can’t handle the responsibility and I don’t want you to have CarPlay or anything like it.

  • stefnagel

    Just one solution to car distraction: Don’t allow humans to drive cars. We are simple creatures, predisposed to stare at shiny, moving things. We won’t ever stop fiddling, so let people fiddle and let Siri tell us what to do.

    • Those Google driverless cars can’t get here soon enough.

      • Space Gorilla

        Driverless cars, yes. Google, no. Maybe Tesla? Mercedes? Ford? Google has pretty much failed at building things, I simply don’t trust that they could pull it off beyond prototypes and very limited production.

        • klahanas

          Ah yes! The iCar. Accelerated while tapping your head and steered while rubbing your belly in a circular motion (clockwise/right, counterclockwise/left), while sitting in the lotus position. No thanks! 😉

          • Space Gorilla

            I didn’t say anything about Apple. Dude, you’ve got a huge chip on your shoulder. Shed your bias, you’ll see things more clearly.

          • klahanas

            Lighten up. That was funny and you know it.
            If not, I’m not the only one with biases. Time to visit an ashram…
            🙂

        • Ha. I’m having a separate discussion re Google Chromecast. Sure is cheap! (But almost of no value to non-techies.) You may be onto something.

          • Space Gorilla

            I’m fairly certain it will be car companies that bring driverless cars to market. Perhaps not the ‘old guard’, but you gotta be focused on building *vehicles*. Which is why I mention Tesla. Ford does seem to be getting off their ass lately though, but their partnership with Microsoft and now Blackberry does not make me hopeful.

            A bit off topic, but there’s a tipping point coming soon re: the price of gas as it impacts the total cost of owning/operating a vehicle. When electric cars become cheaper to own and operate, coupled with better batteries/range, the transition is going to be swift (as far as the auto industry goes).

    • klahanas

      Naah! I’d rather tell me what to do. Siri doesn’t pay the insurance, registration fees, or car payment. Though I’m sure she’d be happy to do that for me. (Not a chance!)
      🙂

  • Mauryan

    Voice activated system is a must so that the driver does not end up being distracted by the touch screen. And good luck with that. Siri has not matured up to that level yet. It would be good to ask for a passcode (4 digit) for the driver to start the car. If he is drunk the car must not start. When the gas level is low, the voice can remind the driver and start suggesting nearby gas stations and when accepted, show the map and directions.

  • Space Gorilla

    Brian, there’s a good article on Stratechery, fairly new I think, “DIGITAL HUB 2.0” which outlines something I told you quite a while ago. He calls it digital hub 2.0. I called it the mobile hub. But the idea is the same, the iPhone is now the centre and Carplay is just one more item on that hub. The Mac used to be the centre of the hub, but now the iPhone is the engine at the centre of the hub. I like the term mobile hub because the engine at the centre is mobile and opens the hub up to our mobile life, the hub moves and expands with us.

    • I’ve said for years now that Microsoft’s strategy is profoundly wrong. First, they said the smartphone would be one of many ‘satellite’ devices orbiting the PC. Only recently, they changed this to: PCs and smartphones are equal. Still wrong. In fact, it’s…the smartphone is the center (the hub, as you say).
      My point, though, is that maybe there are areas where we should enforce the ‘hub’ to be turned off. Secondly, unlike in almost every other area, Apple has little control over the car’s hardware.

      • Space Gorilla

        Certainly, some nodes on the hub must be regulated, that’s common sense. You’re spot on about Microsoft, they (like many) are stuck on the notion of what a ‘real computer’ is, what a ‘real PC’ is, and while they dither the PC is being unbundled, distributed, and abstracted, right in front of them and they don’t even see it.

  • I think CarPlay can help minimize distractions. It kind of limits what you can do with your phone to a few apps so you’re not checking facebook or whatever. If I’m going to text while driving, doing so through the car’s system by voice, or a even by having a bigger screen, seems safer to me than using my small phone.

    If you’re the kind of person that gets usually gets distracted by your phone while driving, you may not like the limitations and you’re probably just going to unplug it and get on facebook like usual.

    • I think Siri needs to radically improve first.

      • Space Gorilla

        Siri isn’t going to radically improve, it will improve slowly over time and one day we’ll realize it’s really great and is integrated in much of our mobile life. Remember, whatever Apple does has to scale to an enormous and very active user base. Apple is playing a long game with Siri, I don’t think it’s possible to move as quickly with it as many people would like.

  • Matang_Lawin

    Its just plain iOS synced, repackaged and remarketed and integrated into a car. I do picture that it would create more distraction specially if you’ll need to tap at the interface every now and then to operate its functions. Imagine a driver… one tap away from a collision, looks at carplay momentarily, unbenknownst to him a truck has just overtaken and is on collision with his path. Then POW! car crash/es?

  • Vicky Bro

    What’s even frightening is that irrespective of the software limitations put forward by Apple or Google, jailbreakers and android rooters will find a solution to break open the limitations in no time. And then there will be Facebook, whatsapp, accidents, etc.

  • jfutral

    What Brian really fears… in dash targeting!

    http://www.funny-potato.com/images/cars/car-accident.jpg

    Joe

  • jfutral
  • isitjustme

    In my experience as a driver anything which distracts will make you into a bad driver.

    This example didn’t involve any gadget just my mind.

    I was trying to figure out which way should I be going and this blanked my mind to the immediate traffic light which had turned to red. Then I saw a pedestrian crossing the road to my left while trying to avoid her I drove faster and the next thing I knew all the cars on the my left were coming towards me. I had no choice but to go as fast as I can to get out of their way.

    Thankfully I got away without an accident.

  • Khürt Williams

    As a passenger, would you feel safe if your bus driver or taxi driver used Google Glass or CarPlay while driving?

  • Chris

    I think the author misses the point. He is saying he thinks Apple CarPlay will be less safe than not using any device while driving. Well of course. When driving anything you do, from using a phone, or talk with fellow passengers is a distraction and should not be done. However people do and will continue to always do that.

    Apple is making CarPlay because it’s a safer option the simply holding a phone in your hand while driving and working through those menus to text, surf the web and everything else. CarPlay is safer because it limits you to only a few apps, large big letters on a big screen and not even supports heads up display and is meant to be handled with siri mostly. So yes CarPlay is much safer than using a phone in your hand that is tiny and access to everything. But yes, CarPlay is not safer than not using any device at all, and it never can be since even a voice only software is dangerous since it distracts like listening to the radio does.

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