Auto/mobile: CarPlay, Android Auto, and the future of the connected car

Connor Mason
  • Connor Mason
  • August 21, 2014
Auto/mobile: CarPlay, Android Auto, and the future of the connected car

There are few consumer products that capture customers’ imaginations quite like sleek phones and fast cars. They’re the two of the only product categories frequently described as “sexy,” and both industries are saturated with a focus on design and luxury. While buying a car and buying a smartphone may have wildly different financial implications, both choices speak volumes about consumers and their priorities. Few industries can inspire the kind of brand loyalty that consumer technology and automotive manufacturers enjoy, and now many companies are looking for innovative ways to bridge the two. While Bluetooth receivers and audio jacks offer some of a smartphone’s utility on the road, new platforms from some of technology’s biggest players look to make the synthesis between mobile and automobile more seamless, beautiful, and useful than ever before.

Driving Miss Siri—Apple introduces CarPlay

The emerging technology landscape for automotive manufacturers has changed dramatically in just the past 12 months. Alongside their complete platform redesign in iOS 7, Apple announced a new framework called CarPlay to allow for the use of certain iOS functions in compatible cars. Building on the car-centric Siri “Eyes Free” feature introduced in iOS 6, which allowed drivers to use Siri from their car’s Bluetooth audio and microphone system, CarPlay leverages auto makers’ touchscreen dashboard panels and includes optimized versions of their Phone, Messages, Maps, and Music apps.

Drivers can navigate these apps from their cars’ physical knobs and buttons or with compatible touchscreens, and can input text or perform searches using iOS voice recognition. Third-party apps can be updated to support CarPlay, and certain popular music streaming apps like Spotify have already developed auto-friendly versions. Visibility in the car offers third-party brand apps an entirely new way to engage with their customers by allowing them to offer new utility and unique user experiences through a completely new avenue.

Robocoupe—Google counters with Android Auto

In tandem with a whole slew of new Android initiatives, including Android Wear and Android TV, Google announced Android Auto at its I/O conference this year. The system offers many of the same basic features that CarPlay brings to the dashboard—including messaging, music streaming, and voice search capabilities. However, Google’s first major departure from Apple’s approach comes in the form of their live-updating homescreen, which borrows some of Google Now’s contextual cards and eschews a static grid of icons.

Source: Android Auto

Source: Android Auto

The differences don’t end there. In line with their “open” reputation, Google and Android have provided developers with tools to make their apps function in the car just as Google’s first-party apps do. Whereas Siri’s functionality will be limited to controlling a handful of Apple-designed apps, Android Auto users can send messages from any of their preferred messaging apps, stream music from several audio services, and more with simple voice functions.

Both CarPlay and Android Auto already offer a range of optimized apps, and promise to offer an expanded suite in the coming months. What’s more impressive is the scope of industry adoption—luxury brands like Mercedes Benz and Ferrari might be expected to integrate forward-thinking “connected” features, but consumer brands like Toyota, Chevrolet, Kia, and dozens of others are also along for the ride. Thankfully, because of the similar specification requirements for CarPlay and Android Auto, these manufacturers can release new cars that are compatible with both systems, eliminating platform lock-in and opening a wider range of options to customers.

Check Engine “Lite”—connected apps for diagnosis and discovery

These new offerings from both major technology companies and car manufacturers will certainly make our vehicles more exciting, and can promote safer driving habits by keeping drivers’ eyes on the road. Other entrants, however, are looking to solve a more fundamental, yet massively complex, problem—vehicle maintenance. Built on the same expectations skyrocketing the production and sale of consumer wearables, Automatic provides a direct link from drivers’ smartphones to their vehicle’s on-board computers, providing data that quantifies driver behavior and informs smarter decisions about their cars’ overall performance.

Source: Automatic

Source: Automatic

Like Automatic, upstart insurance provider Metromile leverages vehicles’ OBD-II port—an on-board diagnostic system built into modern cars since 1994—with a custom accessory that sets personalized insurance rates based on miles driven by its customers. While major auto insurance providers like Allstate have used the same technology for years to send personalized discounts to policyholders, the trend toward greater in-car connectivity underscores a latent consumer desire for personally customized and quantified driving experiences.

Both cars and mobile technologies share an esteemed position in consumers’ hearts and imaginations, and the possibilities of conflating those two passions are endless. New connective services adopted by leaders in both industries will allow drivers to connect more easily and safely while on the go. Diagnostic tools and data services will help drivers better understand their personal driving performance and its impact on their vehicle. Just as it already has for countless industries, mobile technology will transform the experience of driving to leave it more intuitive, accessible, and fun for billions of drivers.


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