Most people probably do not think technology when they think the Geneva Motor Show, but at this year’s show, Apple pulled the wraps off its rebranded iOS in the Car. Called CarPlay, owners of supporting vehicles can connect their iPhone 5, 5s, or 5c to the infotainment system in the vehicle via Lightning cable and turn the car into a giant iPhone. Apple is known to be a company that tries to make things easy, and convenient, for the operators. However, the requirement of a physical cable connection to the vehicle is a major disadvantage, and could ultimately be a technology that nobody actually uses.
The promise of Bluetooth is that an enabled phone can reside in the driver’s pocket, purse, or bag and still automatically be connected to the car. When I drive, I typically leave my phone in my pocket. It automatically pairs with my car, and thanks to Bluetooth Audio support, my car can play back anything that is on my mobile phone. Yes, I have an iPhone. But the same would be true of an Android or Windows Phone device. I also believe that most people use their phones in the car this way.
CarPlay brings the entire iPhone experience to a new vehicle, but does not provide any particular feature that is any more special than what is already available in my vehicle. I can access Siri through the home button on my iPhone, and it will respond to commands over Bluetooth. Music, or any audio from my phone, can be played back through the Bluetooth Audio support of my stereo. For navigation, I can still use my phone or the factory-integrated unit. Yes, the CarPlay experience is a bit more seamless, but not so much so that I would feel compelled to plug my phone in each time I’m in the vehicle.
The requirement for a Lightning cable also holds back innovation. Chevrolet has been offering a CarPlay-like experience for a year now in their Sonic and Spark vehicles. Called BringGo, and paired with Siri EyesFree, drivers have a nearly identical experience to CarPlay that is available today. However, to use BringGo that driver must have his or her iPhone connected via the data cable for it to work.
I have spoken with representatives and engineers from all of the Big Three automakers about infotainment, and all of them quickly point out that in order to provide advanced features to the driver, the iPhone must be plugged into the car. On many Android and Windows Phone devices, Bluetooth is capable of sending all the data that is needed to run these advanced systems. On iPhone, Bluetooth is still restricted and forces manufacturers and users to use the Lightning cable.
The only logical explanation for the requirement from Apple is to promote the licensing of Lightning in more devices. A $30 Lightning cable nets Apple more profit than a $0 Bluetooth connection. It is an ecosystem grab that ultimately hurts innovation and consumers.
CarPlay, along with the Android experience that is coming, will bring value added features to many of the manufacturer’s ecosystems. Checking the CarPlay box when ordering the vehicle will seem like a good idea, but with the phone needing to be plugged into the vehicle to work, I do not expect people to use it all the time when driving.