Apple CarPlay

Dan Moren, Macworld:

Most people probably don’t ever think about the software in their car. And with good reason, too, since most automakers aren’t exactly consumed with a passion for developing software. Even in the cases where car companies do want to pimp the software features, the spotlight’s always going to be on the newest model — they don’t have too much interest in continuing to update the software on older models, especially when it comes to adding new features.

Sound familiar? Because to me it’s reminiscent of the state of the cell phone market prior to about, oh, 2007.

I have older cars from about 10 years ago and neither have enough software in them to warrant any thought. As long as the ‘software’ works and injects fuel into the cylinders at the right time I’m good. New cars are different.

Several months ago a friend and I drove down to Los Angeles in a brand new Lexus ES350. I don’t know what you call the middle column where all the buttons are, but when I took a look at it I felt as though I needed to learn a new operating system. It wasn’t a good feeling. There was even a mouse-like thingamajig to move the cursor around. I kept wondering what would happen if this little computer crashed.

If Moren is right and these newer cars generally don’t get software updates, maybe that’s a good thing. What happens when in the middle of downloading the update the connection gets cut? Or has there been updates that ‘crash’ the car’s operating system? What happens when that happens? Reboot? Maybe there’s a good reason why operating systems on a car don’t get updated or updated all that much. I do know Tesla sends over-the-air updates; I wonder when we’ll see an operating system crash because of a faulty patch.

Apple’s CarPlay doesn’t seem like it will significantly change how automobiles are updated with new features, new or old. CarPlay is like AirPlay for cars, but not quite. AirPlay lets iPhone or iPad users connect to big TVs. The value is in allowing content on a small screen to be displayed on a beautiful big screen. CarPlay connects too, but in the examples below it seems we get to connect to much inferior displays.

The CarPlay implementations do not seem to be well thought out. The user interface requires you to take your eyes off the road and unto a tiny screen with ugly flat icons and up and down buttons, and then demands you engage them with your finger, at every point. (Well, except for the texting app.) So far CarPlay doesn’t seem like it’s a runaway hit. Let’s look at three CarPlay implementations that were shown during the Geneva Motor Show.

Ferrari

When watching the CarPlay demonstration on the Ferrari, I couldn’t help notice she had to tap on the up and down buttons. No gestures? Does Ferrari and Apple really think it’s a good idea to search for and tap up and down buttons? And there seems to be a delay between touching the icons and the system responding.

After the lady called John Appleseed the screen changes and four buttons appeared on the bottom: End, Mute, Keypad, Add Call. Do these two companies really think someone driving a Ferrari FF will be looking down at the horrible resistive display, find which button to tap, take one of your hands off the wheel and then tap it? Looks absolutely disastrous.

The lady explains that iTunes Radio is a great way to choose what you want to listen to and get back to driving. From what I can see the driver will not be driving at all fiddling with iTunes Radio. I would think a more safe and enjoyable experience would be to simply say, “Siri, play my GoFast playlist.” All of this poking around nonsense is ridiculous.

The icons, obviously directly imported from iOS 7, are comically simple compared to the luxurious cabin interior. Even the red-outlined physical buttons look more sophisticated. Perhaps it was the terrible display with washed out colors that is making the icons look worse than they actually are.

Volvo

Unlike Ferrari’s decade old display technology, the demonstration on the Volvo Concept Estate seems to sport a gesture-capable touch display. The black is much deeper and is better integrated into the overall design. The colors are richer than those of Ferrari’s but the flat cartoonish icons don’t go well with the non-flat design of real objects in and around the car’s interior.

But I can see the same problem: What do you do when Siri does not recognize the person you want to call? Or where you want to go? You start selecting icons, scrolling down lists, etc. That’s how things are today with existing systems and CarPlay doesn’t seem to be much better.

Both Ferrari and Volvo used sending a text solely using Siri as an example of CarPlay’s innovative features. The funny thing is I can already do exactly this with my iPhone, mounted on the windshield.

Mercedes-Benz

What can I say about Mercedes-Benz’s implementation of CarPlay on its C-Class other than that the company should have simply built an iPad mini mount and used Bluetooth-enabled speakers. That’s it.

CarPlay seems half-baked. The only reason Volvo’s implementation didn’t look outrageously idiotic was because the interior somewhat matched the high-tech look of CarPlay. CarPlay on Mercedes-Benz simply looked out of place and Ferarri needs to hire a team of people who knows something about modern displays.

Apple is a company known for doing both hardware and software. The company does that so crap like Ferrari’s CarPlay implementation on the FF doesn’t happen. The absence of gestural scrolling is inexcusable on such a car. Apple works like no other on integrating hardware and software so external industrial design and internal operating system design doesn’t clash as they do with the C-Class implementation. And where are the reviews of CarPlay when the car is actually in motion?

From what I’ve seen CarPlay doesn’t seem like what the iPhone was to the smartphone industry back in 2007; CarPlay reminds me of the Motorola ROKR the “iTunes Phone” in 2005, a dud.