Wel­come to the iCar?

As Ap­ple adapts to the au­to­mo­bile, we get a hands on with CarPlay

Mac Format - - CONTENTS - Words: Jeremy Laird Images: Will Ire­land

Ap­ple’s iOS is the best mo­bile op­er­at­ing sys­tem cur­rently avail­able. Cars, of course, are the very def­i­ni­tion of mo­bile. So, CarPlay sounds like a match made in tech­no­heaven, right? Af­ter all, if you like iOS on your iPhone or iPad, wouldn’t it be great to have all your favourite apps and func­tion­al­ity, not to men­tion ac­cess to ev­ery­thing in your iCloud, in-car?

It’s a nice the­ory, but putting it into ac­tion isn’t go­ing to be easy for Ap­ple. For starters, hu­man-ma­chine in­ter­faces in gen­eral are re­ally hard to get right. That’s true for all kinds of de­vices from smartphones to desk­top com­put­ers. Mod­ern in­ter­faces seem sim­ple enough – stick a few menus and but­tons on a touch­screen, and add some fin­ger-swip­ing sup­port – but mak­ing the whole thing re­spon­sive, in­tu­itive and gen­uinely slick is ac­tu­ally a Her­culean task. If we’re talk­ing in-car mul­ti­me­dia sys­tems, you start with that chal­lenge and then add a whole new layer of prob­lems, not least of which are safety and driver dis­trac­tion (some­thing which the ru­moured Ap­ple Car must also con­quer). You can’t just throw the ex­ist­ing iOS in­ter­face and apps for iPhone onto a car’s mul­ti­me­dia screen.

That’s the con­text for Ap­ple’s bold new CarPlay, a new tech­nol­ogy that aims to bring the de­lights of iOS to your four-wheeled friend. How­ever, it’s not all bad news for Ap­ple and CarPlay. To un­der­stand why, we need to ask a cou­ple of key ques­tions. The most press­ing of which is to ask: is it even re­al­is­tic to ex­pect each car man­u­fac­turer to come up with its own in-car mul­ti­me­dia plat­form com­plete with a fully honed hu­man-ma­chine in­ter­face?

Seam­less tran­si­tion?

LCD screens and dig­i­tal hu­man-ma­chine in­ter­faces for mul­ti­me­dia sys­tems are not what car mak­ers have spent the last cen­tury get­ting good at. Their ex­per­tise in­volves car bod­ies and sus­pen­sion and en­gines. That’s not to say those com­pa­nies are back­ward. Cur­rently, there’s an ex­plo­sion of tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion in ar­eas like ac­tive safety, driver aids and eco driv­ing. To­day’s col­li­sion de­tec­tion and self-park­ing sys­tems are likely to quickly tran­si­tion into en­tirely au­ton­o­mous cars sooner than many imag­ine. In fact, like Google, Ap­ple ap­pears to be work­ing on one right now. But mo­bile op­er­at­ing sys­tems are sim­ply not a core com­pe­tence for most car mak­ers.

Even if they are up to the job, is that some­thing any of us re­ally want? In other words, if you’ve ef­fec­tively signed up to and in­vested in the likes of iOS as a user, if you’ve in­te­grated it into your life with con­tacts, mes­sag­ing, so­cial me­dia, mu­sic stream­ing and other apps, do you re­ally want to learn and man­age a whole new ecosys­tem just for a car?

The tan­ta­lis­ing al­ter­na­tive is some­thing that al­lows you to seam­lessly tran­si­tion from your iPhone to the in-car sys­tem. No sync­ing of con­tacts, no down­load­ing new apps, no learn­ing a new in­ter­face. In­stead, sim­ply some­thing you al­ready know and love in a dif­fer­ent con­text and with added ex­tras. That’s what CarPlay of­fers on pa­per. But does it de­liver? And how does it re­ally func­tion?

In re­ally sim­ple terms, CarPlay pipes iOS from your iPhone onto in-car screens. The in­ter­face and apps are run­ning on your phone, mak­ing the car some­thing akin to a huge mon­i­tor with

wheels and an en­gine. There are some down­sides to that. You’ll need to plug your phone into the car, which can cre­ate ca­ble clut­ter. And ob­vi­ously you’ll need your phone with you. No phone, no CarPlay.

There are es­sen­tially two ways to get CarPlay in your car. It can ei­ther be built in at the fac­tory or you can add a com­pat­i­ble head unit. The ros­ter of car com­pa­nies which have an­nounced CarPlay sup­port is rather im­pres­sive. In fact, it’s nearly all of the big brands: Audi, BMW, Citroen, Fer­rari, Ford, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes, Peu­geot, Re­nault, Toy­ota – and that’s just the high­lights. In short, it looks like nearly ev­ery­one is get­ting on board with Ap­ple’s sys­tem.

Get­ting ahead

The very first UK cars with fac­tory-fit­ted CarPlay sup­port should begin to ap­pear later this year. In the mean­time, the al­ter­na­tive is to fit a new ‘head unit’ with CarPlay sup­port from a third­party man­u­fac­turer like Pi­o­neer. To be clear, this isn't pos­si­ble in ev­ery car. In­creas­ingly, man­u­fac­tur­ers are in­te­grat­ing mul­ti­me­dia fea­tures in such a way that af­ter­mar­ket up­grades are es­sen­tially im­pos­si­ble.

If you have a car with what’s known as a stan­dard dou­ble-DIN slot or which can be mod­i­fied to have one, you’re in busi­ness. Whether it makes a dif­fer­ence as to CarPlay be­ing in­te­grated or af­ter­mar­ket, there are a few points to bear in mind.

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