CES 2018: Apple’s CarPlay wins friends and frenemies

Apple's CarPlay is becoming a standard fitting in new vehicles, but the company still has work to do to really make the engines "vroom."

Apple, iOS, iPhone, CarPlay, CES 2017, Amazon, Google, auto
Apple

Apple may (or may not) have scaled back its ambition to build its own connected vehicles, but at CES 2018 we still saw lots of news around its CarPlay system. Here’s a brief run-down on what happened:

What they’re saying about autonomous vehicles

CES 2018 saw lots of conversation on the topic of connected cars, but the big truth remains that as the industry digs deeper into the attempt to create automated and semi-automated transport, it’s becoming clearer that the challenge isn’t only technical — but regulatory, privacy, safety and a host of other puzzles also need to be resolved.

The slightly semi-autonomous Nissan LEAF 2018 stole plaudits at the show, while Ford promised a fully autonomous car by 2021. In the background, BMW in 2017 introduced its first factory vehicle with CarPlay support.

All the same, to reprise Apple's boss, Tim Cook, when it comes to truly smart vehicles, it’s “going to be Christmas Eve for a while.”

What is CarPlay?

Apple’s in-car iOS-based car/mobile integration system is called CarPlay. I imagine most readers are familiar with what it offers: voice control, calls, messaging, maps, information, voice control and so on.

Apple may (or may not) be developing its own carOS peer to its iOS platforms. It may (or may not) still plan to create its own vehicles.

However, when it comes to putting a little of the Apple hive mind inside today’s autos, it has CarPlay, and that system saw plenty of attention at CES.

CarPlay at CES 2018

At or around the show (some announcements were made at the 2017 International Auto Show in Detroit) car manufacturers, including Hyundai, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Kia, Ford, Honda, and Lexus, all promised support for CarPlay in new vehicles. Mazda hasn’t committed to a schedule for this, and long-term CarPlay hold-out, Toyota won’t do so until the 2019 Avalon ships.

In related news, the 2017 International Auto Show in Detroit saw some truck manufacturers confirm future support for Apple’s system. You can take a look at an extensive list of CarPlay-supporting vehicles from 48 brands here.

You don’t need a new car to put iOS inside your drive. When it comes to head units, CarPlay was everywhere:

  • Pioneer introduced its seventh compatible head unit, the MVH-1400NEX.
  • Alpine Electronics showcased a new aftermarket 9-inch display called iLX-F309 that runs Apple’s CarPlay system.
  • Sony also gave a glimpse of its new XAV-AX5000 CarPlay-savvy head unit set to ship this spring.
  • JVC/Kenwood also had CarPlay news for the show.

In other news, Ford introduced independent support for crowd-sourced navigation app Waze within its Sync 3 CarPlay-enabled vehicles.

Hit the fast lane

Apple isn’t unique in offering CarPlay.

There’s Android, and auto electronics firms and big auto brands all offer their own take on mobile/motor integration. They don’t trust the big tech firms and want to be able to collect more customer data as they seek future income streams. This makes it a competitive space, and while Apple can rely on the iOS walled garden to help it build a platform, it must also work to improve its offer.

One way it might make its offer more attractive might be to partner with Gracenote to make that company’s newly introduced at CES 2018 AM/FM app-based radio support through iOS more widely available.

The Mercedes-Benz MBUX infotainment system attracted plenty of positive interest at CES this year.

This will come as standard in A-Class vehicles from the firm. It offers the kind of features you expect (such as voice and music control), but it adds a host of integration features, too: You can even control seat positioning and vehicle lighting with this system.

Driving things forward

That kind of vehicle integration must be a lovely dream for Apple and Google engineers attempting to improve their solutions.

Right now, auto makers seem unready to deliver integration to that extent, and Apple may need to figure out some way to open up CarPlay if it wants to avoid being left behind. Auto brands are already building voice assistant tech from other firms into their cars, and once they do that, integrations such as seat control cannot be too far behind.

Meanwhile, Alexa is also becoming an entity in this section of the space.

It is possible that Amazon’s edge in smart speaker tech could in the future become an advantage here — but Apple is thought to be on the cusp of updating Siri in preparation for the delayed HomePod introduction.

Will the company be ready to bring in some of the lessons it’s learned from its initial work developing Apple Car? I don’t think so — yet — but there’s clearly work required if it wants to bring CarPlay up to speed.

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