Future of Apple CarPlay: why the tech giant is now working with car firms

This is a marked change from the previous situation with Apple CarPlay: it has traditionally been limited to that one central display and served up only apps and services from your iPhone, rather than offering any assimilation of car functions.

By Chris Hall, Autocar UK calendar 04 Mar 2024 Views icon1575 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
For Aston Martin, CarPlay is said to improve the connection between the brand and user

For Aston Martin, CarPlay is said to improve the connection between the brand and user

In late 2023, Apple put flesh on the bones of its intention to amplify Apple CarPlay, drawing in two premium marques - Porsche and Aston Martin. 

The announcement focused on those brands working with Apple to create customised versions of CarPlay, designed to encompass all the screens in your car, rather than just the central display.

This is a marked change from the previous situation with Apple CarPlay: it has traditionally been limited to that one central display and served up only apps and services from your iPhone, rather than offering any assimilation of car functions.

Porsche and Aston Martin have both shown off customised versions of CarPlay, with dials that are part of the CarPlay experience but reflect Porsche and Aston Martin brand cues.

From a tech point of view, this is huge, because Apple rarely lets customisation creep into its products: Hermès and Nike did so on the Apple Watch, but that's about it. There's definitely a change coming down the road in this sense.

What's in it for Porsche and Aston Martin? 

Jump into a modern car and it's radically different from one 10 years ago: the actual functions of the car haven't changed much, but the expectations around entertainment and connectivity are entirely different.

The touchscreen now dominates, dials have gone digital, and all cars are trying to replicate the smartphone experience.

In October 2023, Cyril Dorsaz, then principal product manager at Porsche Digital in the US, highlighted the downside of Apple CarPlay, telling Ars Technica: "You have to switch back and forth to control some features around media, for example, some more specific features around climate. And ultimately, we learned through customer research that this is something that our customers are not really happy with."

In July 2023, Porsche updated the My Porsche app to be CarPlay compatible, giving access to a range of car functions from within Apple CarPlay. But this was only a stepping stone towards a more complete integration that's coming with 2024 models, such as the Macan EV and the new Taycan.

With an all-encompassing Apple CarPlay experience, the aim is to deliver the customer a smoother experience when interacting with the car, without that app switching.

As customer expectation rises, delivering the experience they demand becomes more important and that's the benefit to brands like Porsche and Aston Martin. If a majority of drivers are using Apple CarPlay - which Porsche tells us is the case for its owners - then optimising for that environment should be the focus, rather than trying to replicate the experience with a native infotainment offering.

Ultimately, for a car brand, trying to compete with the likes of Apple or indeed Google (with Android Auto) can be a costly venture for little return.

For Aston Martin, the position is slightly different. Aston Martin is an exclusive brand, but the native infotainment experience is built on an outdated Mercedes system.

In recent cars, there has been a disconnect between the brand and the user experience. Again, accepting a fully integrated Apple CarPlay experience side-steps that - and when you're looking to appeal to a new generation of drivers, that's hugely important.

What this doesn't always allow for, however, is systems that go beyond conventional displays. The big message from the Aston Martin or Porsche collaboration is that you can get Apple CarPlay on the driver display, but this piece of real estate is increasingly under attack. While sports cars are heavily keyed into those dials as a performance cue, many conventional cars are reducing the driver display in favour of the heads-up display (HUD).

Indeed, this needs to be the next evolution for Apple CarPlay, because without integration into the HUD, a key part of the modern driving experience gets missed.

What does Apple get out of the deal?

Working with Porsche and Aston Martin gives Apple two premium marques to showcase CarPlay as a more enhanced platform. Apple may limit the customisation it offers just to premium marques in the short term so that there's an air of exclusivity about things, but by working with heritage brands initially, Apple could be aiming to whet the appetite of the rest of the automotive industry, which will surely be wanting to offer that to customers too.

Apple's rival in the motoring world (and much of the tech world) is Google, which has made big inroads with both Android Auto (the rivalling phone-based system) and Android Automotive, which runs on the car's systems itself - most notably found in Polestar and Volvo cars. Indeed, Android Automotive sits behind the system in the new Porsche models too.

Yes, there's a beautiful irony in the fact that Apple's showcase CarPlay experience is running on Android Automotive, given the rivalry between these big tech brands. The difference is that everyone knows when they are using Apple CarPlay, but Android as a platform can be used without any hint that it's Google's software. Indeed, BMW is shifting over to an Android-based platform with the next-gen Operating System 9.

Apple CarPlay is hugely popular with drivers. It makes accessing things like music services simpler, it has given access to what many people see as better mapping and navigation, and voice assistants like Siri are so much better than those developed by car brands. Offering a fully integrated and customised experience is going to be popular and having Porsche and Aston Martin sell that vision is great for Apple.

But it remains to be seen what happens to advanced features like the sort of augmented heads-up display that some brands are starting to introduce - like Volkswagen and Mercedes - because ultimately, it's those more advanced systems that car brands will use to tempt you back to their own infotainment systems if CarPlay can't access them.

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