Behind The Wheel With Apple CarPlay: Is This The Future Of In-Car Tech?

Author

Seth Porges, Contributor

November 11, 2015

“Siri, take me home.” 

I’m speeding along a freeway in a 2016 Corvette Stingray convertible, a horse-stuffed, muscle-bound beast that also happens to be one of the first cars to come equipped with the new Apple CarPlay, the new software platform that promises to mind-meld the two most vital pieces of technology in many of our lives: The smartphone and the car. The top is down, the sun is shining, and as Siri is seamlessly projecting my navigation request onto the car’s touchscreen,I can’t help but feel like I’m living in the future—even it’s the sort of near future that I know will feel commonplace in a year. 

For almost a decade, auto manufacturers have been racing to bring bigger touchscreens, more sensors, and all sorts of ever-fancier bells and whistles into their vehicles’ cockpits. I can almost imagine the meetings held at HQ: “People love tech, lets give them as much as we can!” 

Of course, there’s an SUV-sized problem with this logic. Driving—at least driving safely—requires a whole lot of attention. And while car companies’ inclination to turn their vehicles into mobile situation rooms certainly has its perks (hey, I love having hundreds of satellite radio stations as much as the next guy), it’s also created serious safety issues, thanks to the pesky reality of distracted drivers. 

There’s another problem with the auto industry’s efforts to bring tech into driver’s seat: In a world where our smartphones are perfectly capable of delivering music and navigation—and with objectively better user experiences than the average car system—does the stuffed-to-the-gills in-car infotainment system really have a reason to exist? 

With new platforms such as Carplay and Android Auto (for the non-iPhoners out there), the auto industry seems to be setting into a realization that the best they can do is serve as a conduit for what Apple and Google have already built. They can’t beat iOS and Android’s combination of a familiar UX, widespread app support, and excellent voice controls (thanks to services such as Siri); so why not harness them?

This is the promise of CarPlay: Plug your iPhone into your car, and the two devices Voltron together into a sort of supergadget. The car’s large touchscreen effectively mirrors the familiar iOS display, apps and information are delivered safely and seamlessly over the speakers and display, and your old friend Siri is your copilot and DJ—her familiar voice sifting through your car speakers.

In reality, the system works well; even if there are a few issues that I expect to be ironed out with future releases. The best part is just how quick and easy it is to get started. You literally just plug your iPhone (5 or later) into the car’s USB jack. No pesky menus or time-consuming installations. It just sort of works.

However, some users may take issue with Siri’s addiction to Apple Maps. Apple Maps is actually quite good these days (and miles ahead of where it was when it launched to some pretty dreadful press), but I’m still gonna take a gamble and guess that it’s probably not your go-to guide.

Things also got a bit wonky when I pushed my luck by opening  non-Apple apps while the iPhone was hooked up to the car. For example, if I was listening to satellite radio when a navigation alert came in from the Google-owned Waze (which can’t be beat when it comes to magically knowing what traffic you can expect and how best to beat it), the car stereo would revert to a random music file on the phone, instead of the station I was bopping along to. That meant that every time I heard my next turn, I had to manually switch the sound system back to radio. While I expect issues such as this to be fixed, they are illustrative of just how new this tech is.

Which brings us to the biggest reason to get excited about CarPlay. Our phones are constantly changing, evolving, updating. We get new apps and new iOS updates and new phones at a far faster rate than we replace our cars. Buying a teched-out car used to mean committing to whatever tech was in vogue in that particular year. But because standards such as CarPlay effectively allow our vehicles to mirror whatever tech is on our phone, our car systems (or at least their software) are suddenly as dynamic and changing and modern and new as these devices.

This is why I’m excited for CarPlay—not just because it may be the safest way yet of using your iPhone with your car—but because it could usher in an era in which our in-car tech isn’t instantly obsolete. And an era in which mistakes and bugs and UX errors aren’t permanent, but rather an iOS update away from being fixed.

This article was written by Seth Porges from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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