Let me start off by saying I’m a daily CarPlay user. I’ve used several generic infotainment systems with the notable exception of Android Auto. So far in my experience, CarPlay is far and away the best system. It has definitely made me a safer driver and mostly removed the temptation to look at my phone. However, there are several areas where I feel it falls short, and one major philosophy that I believe Apple has wrong that is preventing it from truly solving the CarPlay problem.
First off, there is a dearth of apps for CarPlay. Apple has defined a few, very specific categories and all other apps are forbidden from running on CarPlay. Why you ask? I have no inside knowledge, but I believe Apple’s philosophy to be that texting, mapping and audio are enough. Nothing else should happen inside the car. That is admirable but also dangerously naive. The world is more complex than ever, whether Apple or I like it or not, and the fastest way to get people to pick up their phones while driving is to tell them that the one app they want to use can’t be controlled through CarPlay. Isn’t any app with a CarPlay UI a safer alternative than a driver interacting with their phone? I don’t think Skype video chats or streaming Youtube would make for safe driving apps (more on that in a minute) but at least allowing a Skype user to be in a call as an audio only participant or allowing the Youtube app to stream audio only would be marked improvements over people who are inevitably driving down the road, watching YouTube on their phone screens. I say open any app up to CarPlay and only disapprove an app who’s safety is worse than a person using their phone while driving.
I told you we’d be coming back to Youtube and here we are. This should be a slam dunk. You obviously don’t want people watching video while driving. What about the dad waiting for 45 minutes to pick his daughter up from soccer practice? What about two people sitting in a car, killing time, who want to take advantage of that large touchscreen? It turns out we solved this problem many years ago with in car DVD players. If you remember, they are supposed to be hooked up to your brake so that the unit will only allow DVD playback if the vehicle is in park. Heck, my current CarPlay enabled head unit will play videos from a USB stick as long as I am parked.
I propose an enhanced level of interactivity for apps called Parked Mode – which would allow a user to watch Youtube videos or have a Skype video chat using the large screen in their car, provided the vehicle is safely in park. There are people who would say this would be exploited/hacked and they are right. It didn’t take long for people to disengage parking locks on in-dash DVD players either. I also don’t recall mass reports of people trying to watch The Matrix while driving down I-65 either. Most people don’t want to do that, and the few that do would hack their systems to do it anyway. They’re doing it right now with jailbroken iOS apps. But if you can make an alternative that is better most of the time, you’ll keep 99% of people doing the right, safer thing.
CarPlay is really just an alternate UI for iOS and thus can only be updated when iOS is updated. Apple has added features and tweaked the interface, but the most notable changes I can recall were the recent app switcher and support for third party mapping apps. These were great features, but CarPlay could use more attention. For example, where is the integration with the CAR part of CarPlay? I use an awesome app called OBD Fusion which can give me all kinds of diagnostic information about my vehicle by using an OBD2 port adapter. This is far more useful than trying to decipher blinking glyphs on my dashboard, some of which make absolutely no sense. Apple surely can’t claim gauges are distracting, seeing as my vehicle has several built-in. An app like that could be the difference between knowing if I need to pull over right now or if I can drive a mile to the next fuel station. This functionality could save lives and thousands of dollars in auto repairs.
My other issue is with Siri, which is the primary means of interacting with CarPlay. Siri is still confused (which could be an entire other article) and will frequently respond with “I don’t understand” or “I can’t do that here” – before executing the command she was just given. Siri has told me on multiple occasions that she couldn’t find any artists matching “The Beatles” on Apple Music – then immediately begins playing Yellow Submarine. Siri needs to get better for Apple’s entire product line, but the weakness is especially noticeable here and on the Apple Watch. It would be fantastic if you could turn down the verbosity of Siri as well – I don’t want to chat with her in my car, I want her to acknowledge a command and that be the end of our interaction. Finally, I wish there was someway to correct Siri’s dictation. On an iPhone, you simply tap the blue underlined phrases and pick the correct word. Siri almost always knows what it got wrong. In the car, this equates to using the “Change” command, and repeating your message slower and louder, hoping Siri will pick out the correct words.
I do love my CarPlay head unit and it is the best auto system in my opinion. However Apple has said that they strive to outdo themselves, not worry about the competition. CarPlay has plenty of room to grow, evolve, and provide more functionality – safely – while decreasing reasons for people to reach for their phones while behind the wheel.