Experiencing Apple’s auto ecosystem with CarPlay, Apple Watch — and even Maps.
A version of this essay was originally published at Tech.pinions, a website dedicated to informed opinions, insight and perspective on the tech industry.
Apple is making a car. The code name is “Project Titan.” Apple brings Bob Mansfield back from retirement to lead the project. Apple lays off dozens of employees who were presumably working on the car project that was never confirmed. Apple might no longer be making a car.
There — you’re all caught up on the months of speculation around Apple and cars!
What I do know for sure is that Apple is in my car today. A new car that I’ve had now for about two weeks. A totally unnecessary purchase, justified by the fact that my old car — a 2014 Suburban — was not technologically savvy enough. Now I have the 2016 model, and it does all sorts of things for me — warning me about lane departures, making my seat vibrate when a car or pedestrian is approaching me while reversing, and showing me the direction with a big red arrow on my screen.
As I am currently using an iPhone 7 Plus, I tried out CarPlay, and the results were quite interesting.
I’ve been using Google Maps pretty much since I got to the U.S. four years ago. My old car had a navigation system, but I hated it, so I was using my phone with a Bluetooth connection. I had tried Apple Maps when it first came out, but went back to Google, and soon got used to certain features, such as the multi-lane turn, as well as the exact timing of the command. I got comfortable with it, and aside from trying out HereWeGo and Waze, I have been pretty much happy with Google.
Having CarPlay made me rediscover Maps and features like where I parked my car, the suggested travel time to home or school or the office, suggestions based on routine or calendar information — all pleasant surprises that showed me what I had been missing out on. It also showed me how, by fully embracing the Apple ecosystem, you receive greater benefits. Having the direction clearly displayed on the large car screen was better, and while there is still a little bit of uneasiness about not using Google Maps, I have now switched over. Maps on Apple Watch just completes the car experience, as the device gently taps you as you need to make the turn. It is probably the best example I have seen thus far of devices working together to deliver an enhanced experience vs. one device taking over the other.
Music has been in my car for some time, thanks to a subscription to SiriusXM but, at home, we also have an Apple Music subscription, as well as Amazon Prime Music. With CarPlay, my music starts to play in the car as soon as the phone is connected, and despite my husband’s initial resistance, he was converted this past weekend. He asked Siri to play Rancid, and he was somewhat surprised when one of his favorite songs came on. My daughter is also happily making requests to Siri, and everybody catching a ride is quite relieved not to be subjected to Kidz Bop Radio nonstop.
The best feature, however, is having Siri read and compose text messages for you. I know that I can do that outside my car, too, but I rarely do, because, frankly, I don’t have to: Typing serves me just fine. When I interact with Siri, the exchange feels very transactional: I ask a question, I get an answer and that’s it. The car is the perfect storm when it comes to getting you hooked on voice commands. You’re not supposed to be texting and driving, the space is confined, and there is little background noise, as the music is turned off when you speak. (I have to admit that a switch to turn off the kids would be nice, too.)
Siri gets commands and messages right 90 percent of the time, which gets me to use her more. Interestingly, it is also the time where I have a more natural, more conversational, exchange with Siri:
Siri: There is a new message from XYZ. Would you like me to read it to you?
Me: Yes, please.
(Reads message) Would you like to respond?
You are replying “yadda-yadda-yadda.” Ready to send?
At the end, you have a pretty satisfied feeling of having achieved what you wanted —while not once taking your eyes off the road ahead.
Our Voice Assistant survey did show a preference for consumers to use their voice assistant in the car. Fifty-one percent of the U.S. consumers we interviewed said they do, too, so I am clearly not alone. I would argue that interacting through car speakers versus the phone — assuming that you are not holding the phone to your mouth, which would not be hands-free — gives you higher fidelity and therefore a better, more engaging experience.
While we wait for autonomous cars (maybe even one by Apple) to take over and leave us free to either work or play while we go from point A and B, it’s understandable that CarPlay stays limited to functions that complement your driving but do not interfere with your concentration.
That said, I think there is a lot of room for Apple to deliver a smarter experience in the car if it accesses more information from the car and the user — thing like suggesting a gas station when the gas indicator goes below a certain point, suggesting a place to park when we get to our destination, or a restaurant if we are driving somewhere where we have not been before and are close to lunch time. The possibilities are many.
The problem with CarPlay is that it relies on consumers upgrading their cars to one of the more than 100 models available, or integrating CarPlay kits — which range from just under $200 to over $700, depending on brand and quality. This is a steep price to pay when you are not quite sure what the return on your investment will be. Apple needs to find a way to lower that adoption barrier for CarPlay so as to speed up adoption. The more users experience CarPlay, the easier it will be to get them to take the next step when it comes to cars, whether it’s an Apple-branded car or a fuller Apple experience in the car.
Carolina Milanesi is a principal analyst at Creative Strategies Inc. She focuses on consumer tech across the board; from hardware to services she analyzes today to help predict and shape tomorrow. In her prior role as chief of research at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, Milanesi drove thought leadership research; before that, she spent 14 years at Gartner, most recently as VP of consumer devices research and agenda manager. Reach her at @caro_milanesi.