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Apple's CarPlay to spark mobile apps war in your car

Apples new UI is competitive, not complementary, to what automakers already offer

March 3, 2014 04:11 PM ET

Computerworld - Apple's announcement today of its in-car, hands-free iPhone user interface, CarPlay, will no doubt bring smiles to the faces of many an iPhone user, but it also is the bugle blast for a battle between mobile application access in your car.

That's because CarPlay will compete with current in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems, as well as efforts by Google to get a UI to its Android OS into your car.

"The challenge for car companies is they can't ignore what Apple does," said Gartner analyst Thilo Koslowski. "That's definitely competition to their current [infotainment systems] and it will introduce more complexity overall."

To be all things to all drivers, automakers will have to find a way to offer UIs to multiple popular mobile OSes and their associated applications.

Apple's new CarPlay UI will offer many of the features iPhone 5 or later users have today, but instead of their phone's display, the apps and services will be available via the in-vehicle infotainment system (IVI). That means the vehicle's IVI screen will display music lists, navigation and calling and texting features.

Apple's CarPlay
Apple's CarPlay interface on an in-vehicle infotainment systems display in a Honda Civic (source: Apple).

Today, there are three IVI platforms: Windows CE (which is on the decline), Blackberry's QNX and Linux.

The CarPlay interface, which many automakers will consider a must in their IVI systems so as to not alienate iPhone owners, will be available in several models this year. The UI allows a Siri-voice activated interface to telephone contacts, make or return missed phone calls, or play voicemails and text messages.

CarPlay will also allow drivers to use Siri's voice-recognition technology to deliver text responses, Apple said in an announcement.

Apple's turn-by-turn, voice activated navigation system, "Apple Maps", will also be accessible through the new UI.

Mark Boyadjis, manager of Infotainment & HMI systems at IHS Automotive, said Apple Maps could be a big point of contention if other navigation systems are not offered along side it. "Frankly, AppleMaps is still problematic. Some consumers may like it, but the lion share of analysts who work with navigation systems say it's not as good as Google... or other systems from companies like Garmin," Boyadjis said.

Also left behind by the CarPlay interface is anyone with an iPhone 4s or earlier, as well as anyone using another smartphone interface.

That is a significant "snub" to Apple's customer base, according to Mark Boyadjis, manager of Infotainment & HMI systems at IHS Automotive.

Apple CarPlay uptake

According to market research firm IHS Automotive, only about 215,000 cars with Apple's new CarPlay will be sold this year.

By 2020, IHS projects about 25 million CarPlay-enabled IVI units will have been sold. "So there's significant growth, but 25 million units is still only 25% of the cars that will be sold, so it's not reaching critical mass even by the end of this decade," Boyadjis said.

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