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 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.
Boyadjis believes most automakers who have committed to rolling out CarPlay will likely only choose one model car for it this year.
In the end, car manufacturers will have to determine how best to be all-inclusive for their customers using various smartphones.
"That will mean car companies will have to hand over the keys to [mobile software developers]," Koslowski said. "Car companies are losing their identities going forward. This will turn them into the HTCs and Samsungs of the world, who are great device manufacturers, but who are not benefiting from the ecosystem."
In-vehicle technology will drive car-buying decisions in the future
More than 50% of North Americans purchasing automobiles in the next 12 months say that onboard technology options will play an important role in their buying decision, according to Forrester Consumer survey data. So Apple's launch of its CarPlay hands-free UI for iOS devices is no surprise, according to Forrester analyst Frank Gillett.
How Apple CarPlay's UI will serve up music in a Honda Civic
In fact, industry analysis firm ABI Research believes Apple's new UI will dominate the industry by 2018 just because of Apple's iPhone market share.
Gillett said in a blog post that CarPlay's launch is the "beginning of two complementary and competing approaches to enabling the connected car."
"Apple's strategy is focused on enabling infotainment and telematics capabilities, the two ripe forms of in-vehicle computing," Gillett wrote. "This strategy is notable for not attempting to be or replace an embedded operating system in the car, [like] Blackberry's QNX technology, the recently announced Google sponsored Open Automotive Alliance or Microsoft's embedded technology."
"Apple's conservative approach will get it into many cars faster than competitors, who will likely end up supporting Apple's CarPlay while they aim for deeper built-in technology," Gillett added.
Because its an open specification, QNX or a Linux-based OS could help channel the various mobile ecosystems and their applications, Koslowski said. But Apple would not likely be amenable to offering up its source code.
"I can guarantee you Apple won't be that agreeable to CarPlay being included along with something else on your infotainment system," Koslowski said. "They always want to be a standalone. Android is probably much more open to this."
Apple officials did not return a request for comment.
While CarPlay supports some third-party audio streaming apps such as Spotify and iHeartRadio, it does not support the most popular music streaming service today, Pandora, as well as many other apps not included in Apple's app library.
That, Koslowski said, is a good example of why Apple's new interface is competitive and not complementary to what automakers offer now or want to offer in the future.
Automakers have their own plans for introducing a UI to access popular applications, such as Pandora. For example, Ford is reportedly set to replace its Windows-based Sync platform in its cars with the QNX OS, an open standards-based system owned by Blackberry.
"Now Ford Sync has a new competitor, CarPlay, which has most of the functionality consumers are looking for," he said.
Many automakers today are also backing efforts to standardize IVI systems on open-source code. In doing so, they'll be creating a reusable platform consisting of core services, middleware and open application layer interfaces that eliminate the redundant efforts to create separate proprietary systems. By developing an open-source platform, carmakers can share upgrades as they arrive.
Rudi Streif, who leads the Automotive Grade Linux workgroup for the Linux Foundation, said the use of proprietary software developed by third-party suppliers to power infotainment systems is the main reason most of those systems have limited functions. Such systems can only use proprietary car-based apps.
So far, three automakers have rolled out open-source, Linux-based platforms on a limited number of models: GM's Cadillac division uses Linux in its Cue IVI; Tesla offers a 17-in. IVI screen in its Model S all-electric cars; and Toyota recently said that it plans to use a Linux-based IVI in the 2014 Lexus IS.
MirrorLink is another mobile device to IVI interoperability standard being pushed by the Car Connectivity Consortium, a group whose members represent more than 80% of the world's auto market, and more than 70% of the global smartphone market.
Smartphone capability advances have dramatically changed consumers' in-car expectations. Along with Internet connectivity, consumers have come to expect they'll be able use whatever mobile application they choose -- an IVI feature many consumers value the most, Owen said.
The first cars to introduce Apple's proprietary CarPlay to their customers this week are Ferrari, Volvo and Mercedes-Benz.
Honda, Hyundai and Jaguar will introduce CarPlay later this year with cars from BMW, Chevrolet, Ford, Kia, Land Rover, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Opel, Citroen.
CarPlay will function in enabled automobiles as an update to iOS 7, available on iPhone 5 and later models with a Lightning connector. Apple has listed the regions where CarPlay will be available, but it has not given any specific dates.''
"In the end, those car makers will be left with the decision of how to enable Apple's CarPlay, along with any other mobile device OS going forward," Koslowski said. "They can't cut out any of their customers."
Lucas Mearian covers consumer data storage, consumerization of IT, mobile device management, renewable energy, telematics/car tech and entertainment tech for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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