Apple rolls out CarPlay technology in Ferrari, Mercedes and Volvo vehicles

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Apple is finally making iOS in the car a reality.

Apple says an automotive version of its mobile operating system, dubbed CarPlay, will debut in Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo vehicles this week and will enable users to access functions of their iPhones on the vehicles' infotainment screens. Other automakers slated to integrate CarPlay include Honda, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Nissan and Toyota.

CarPlay, unveiled today at the Geneva auto show, works with an iPhone 5 or later model connected to the vehicle and reconfigures the display to suit a touch-screen display. Drivers will be able to make calls, use maps, listen to music and access text messages all through the center console. They can interact with CarPlay using Siri, the voice-controlled command system used on Apple smartphones.

CarPlay may be a boon to mobile-app creators eager to make inroads into the automobile, especially if leads to the emergence of a uniform industry standard, which developers prefer to the current patchwork of technologies.

Control questions

But automakers, which tend to closely guard their design and brand cues, have been reluctant to turn over too much control of the user interface to outside developers.

They're also concerned about their liability for reliability and safety issues, such as driving distractions. Automakers such as GM or Ford have lengthy testing procedures for their technology to ensure that drivers keep their eyes on the road. It is unclear how Apple would guarantee the same level of safety.

"Is any company going to give complete control to a developer or an electronics company? No," said Mark Boyadjis, an IHS Automotive analyst. Manufacturers "are the ones that get sued when things go wrong."

Vehicles with CarPlay are expected to start shipping this year, beginning with Volvo's redesigned XC90 crossover.

"Apple's clean and intuitive user interface is a perfect match with Volvo's Scandinavian design approach and our focus on fluid functionality," Volvo Cars CEO Hakan Samuelsson said in a statement.

GM and Apple

GM has worked with Apple in the past, installing a version of Siri called Siri Eyes Free in the 2013 Chevrolet Spark and Sonic and Opel Adam. Eyes Free enables drivers to use Siri's voice interface to play music, make phone calls, access maps and dictate messages.

The automaker was the first to install Eyes Free on its vehicles, and a GM spokesman told Automotive News last summer that the company had "great experiences" with the program.

BMW equipped its 2014 lineup with Siri Eyes Free through its iDrive control system.

GM is launching its own in-vehicle app store for 2015 Chevrolet vehicles, featuring apps from GM and third-party developers. Apps from the Chevrolet AppShop can be downloaded into the car and work in the center-stack display.

"This is an evolutionary environment we live in," said Junior Barrett, GM's infotainment strategy manager. "We're investigating all different avenues."

More apps

The introduction of CarPlay may give a nudge to automakers that have been slow to introduce apps into vehicles. "It puts a lot of pressure on the OEMs to not only keep up but to be cognizant of what is the best interest of the driver," said Masaichi Hasegawa, a Deloitte analyst.

Hasegawa doesn't see any one operating system emerging as the standard anytime soon. Instead he sees a variety of partnerships forming across Silicon Valley and Detroit, much like the Open Automotive Alliance, Google's collaboration with automakers that is trying to create an Android rival to CarPlay.

"The space is so chaotic right now," Hasegawa said. "It's kind of like speed dating on steroids."

Vince Bond contributed to this report.


You can reach Sean Gagnier at sgagnier@crain.com.


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