Jun 10, 2022 - Technology
Column / Signal Boost

Apple's car vision extends far beyond music

The next generation of CarPlay, as shown by Apple at WWDC2022
The next generation of CarPlay, as shown by Apple at WWDC2022. Photo: Apple

Right now, Apple's system for connecting your iPhone to your auto, CarPlay, merely takes over a car's entertainment functions — but soon Apple intends to provide a pervasive interface controlling everything from the dashboard and the temperature controls to mapping and music.

Driving the news: The sneak peek at the future of CarPlay occupied less than three minutes of Apple's keynote on Monday — but it was arguably the most significant reveal of this year's developer conference.

How it works: Apple's demo showed CarPlay stretching across multiple displays, from the infotainment screen to the main instrument cluster, handling functions including fuel levels, speed, temperature control and radio — all things it doesn't do currently.

  • The list of auto companies working with Apple on the next generation of CarPlay include Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Nissan, Ford, Lincoln, Audi, Jaguar, Acura, Volvo, Honda, Renault, Infiniti and Polestar. 
  • Apple confirmed that the new CarPlay, like the current version, will only show you the Apple-designed interface when connected to an iPhone, with a user's personal information and preferences stored on the device.

Yes, but: There is no guarantee all of those companies plan to use CarPlay as expansively as in Apple's Monday demo. Many carmakers were circumspect when queried by The Verge.

  • Apple did say vehicles using the new CarPlay "will start to be announced late next year."

The big picture: Apple's vehicle efforts go well beyond CarPlay.

  • The company has a significant team focused on autonomous vehicles, though both the vision and the people have shifted over time. The company has received permission to test AVs in California,.
  • The software interface from CarPlay could well be used in conjunction with the autonomous technology if Apple does in fact ever produce its own car.

Be smart: Carmakers have to steer carefully to avoid turning over too much control to Apple or rival Google, which has also shown interest in moving further into vehicle software.

  • Google has a deal with Volvo, for example, for its flavor of Android to natively power the infotainment system in future vehicles.
  • For the car makers, Apple CarPlay (along with Google's Android Auto) have proven to be popular features, often must-haves when people buy a new car.

The catch: Automakers fear that letting Apple or Google control more of a car's interface could over time move more of the value of the vehicle to its software.

  • That would leave the hardware makers with most of the hard work around safety and less of the profit, as the tech companies take a greater revenue share.

Flashback: Before the iPhone, there were lots of different kinds of phones, and most of the revenue and profits went to the hardware companies. In the intervening years, most of the profits have gone to operating-system owners Apple and Google.

Apple also has a history of starting out as a partner, then turning into a rival.

  • In 2004, it partnered with Motorola to include iTunes on the company's phones. Meanwhile, it was developing the iPhone, which eventually decimated Motorola's business.

The bottom line: Mark Fields, then the CEO of Ford, acknowledged the dilemma to me in a 2015 interview.

  • "At the end of the day we don’t want to end up as the handset business," Fields said.
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