It is probably safe to say that Apple had a fairly easy ride last decade when it came to cars due to the ubiquitous iPod. Similarly, when the iPhone hit the streets, Cupertino was quick to offer the hard wired integration that other phones conspicuously lacked.
Apple subsequently changed its charging interface, cars went Bluetooth and suddenly, or so it seemed, Cupertino's advantage evaporated.
Tim Cook is clearly pushing to reverse this trend with CarPlay which follows Nokia, Google, and Microsoft’s strategic moves into in-car integration for smartphones.
The Mind Change
At the core of this concept is a clear shift about how smartphones should work in cars. Initially devices just passed through sound, then they could charge as well, and finally they could integrate with the in car (steering wheel) controls. Over time, the vendors realized the phones would need to recognize they were being used in a car and behave far differently than if they were in a pocket, backpack or purse. As we all know, you really can’t use your hands while driving. This effectively prompts more dependence on voice control, with email and test alerts suspended so the phone doesn’t distract the driver.
I first noticed this with my Nokia 1520, when it connected to my car (and car mode was enabled) I get what sounded like George Bush Jr.’s voice (hey, it’s a job he can do well ok?) come out of my phone telling me it was in car mode. Then my music would auto start as it streamed down from Xbox Live - only interrupted by navigation instructions. It significantly reduced the distractions from the phone and greatly improved my enjoyment.
Nevertheless, it showcased the clear change that has been going on with handset makers (at least with Nokia and Apple), as well as need to better integrate and streamline a smartphone with a vehicle.
Apple is clearly taking this another step farther by positioning an improved Siri as the core of its new effort. I for one clearly prefer Siri’s voice over the voice of our ex-President (sorry George). While Siri is still somewhat frustrating to work with, she has undeniably improved significantly since launch and will continue to improve. This means you’ll be able to more easily ask her question like “what does that flashing light on the dash mean” or “there is smoke coming out of my hood, what should I do”? On this last point, if you are driving a gas and not an electric car, you’ll know when Siri truly becomes intelligent when she says “throw me out the window” before the big boom.
This is a solid improvement for Apple and it illustrates how Cupertino is serious about getting back into cars with a vengeance. In addition to the planned improvements to the screen material (sapphire) and size, this could very well put them back in the driver’s seat, (pun intended) for a while.
Wrapping Up: Just the Start
However, this is likely just the start to what will be a massive number of improvements to in-car entertainment and driving technology. GM has integrated a dash camera onto their new Corvette Stingray, a number of cars now can self-park and an increasing number can auto avoid accidents. Self-driving cars are coming and it won’t be long until we look back at the cars we drive today and wonder how the hell we lived with such ancient technology. Granted, I’m personally looking forward to the day when George Bush’s voice no longer comes out of my phone as well as some of the amazing changes to in-car entertainment and Smartphone integration. The second half of this decade will be amazing for cars and not so much different, in terms of the amount of change, than the beginning of the last century. Hold on to your hats, it’s going to be an amazing ride!