On June 13, at this year’s Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple released a new version of the car infotainment system CarPlay. American media analysis said that this is by no means a simple software update, but Apple is preparing the foundation for its upcoming smart electric vehicle.
The move is in line with Apple’s past pattern of launching new categories of products. Before the company enters new territory, it usually releases a lot of basic stuff. For example, in January 2001, Apple launched iTunes. Ten months later, the iPod followed. In 2014, Apple released HealthKit and the Health app, which heralded the debut of the Apple smartwatch in 2015.
Also in 2014, Apple launched HomeKit ahead of its smart speaker, the HomePod, and released smart home hub technology that can be integrated into iPads and Apple TVs. Currently, Apple is going all-in on augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), launching ARKit in 2017. The company is also constantly adding new related technologies to its platform, laying the groundwork for its upcoming mixed reality hardware and software, realityOS.
Mark Gurman, a reporter who follows Apple’s movements, expects CarPlay to follow the same pattern. He believes that CarPlay is the most noteworthy focus at this year’s developer conference. According to Gurman, the new version of CarPlay may not be on the road until 2024, but Apple needs to prepare in advance, in part to pressure automakers to adopt the software.
It’s a source of tension between Apple and automakers, as some car companies don’t want Apple to take over their interfaces, and Apple’s software could end up being used in future cars that compete with them. Back in October 2021, Gurman predicted that the new CarPlay would expand Apple’s in-car interface from just controlling Apple apps to controlling the entire car. The new CarPlay can replace car dashboards, radios, temperature controls and other functions with Apple’s interface.
Meanwhile, CarPlay’s new interface is fully customizable, allowing users to personalize their dashboards, car screens, and widgets for managing weather, calendar, trip data, time zones, music, and smart appliances.
Gurman says the new CarPlay interface is so well designed that it will immediately become a must-have when buying a new car. It also looks more like an all-new operating system than just a next-gen version of CarPlay. As such, CarPlay seems poised to be the ideal interface for Apple Cars.
But that raises a key question: If Apple is planning to use the same system in its own cars, why bring it to third-party cars? The simple answer is that Apple wants to show consumers its car tech, and you’ll love the Apple car. The move also helps Apple understand the auto industry and gather the necessary data to help it build its own cars.
The deeper reason, though, is that Apple needs to keep adding reasons to stick with its iPhones and upgrade to newer models, Gurman said. It is estimated that the average American spends an hour a day driving. If consumers prefer an iPhone-powered in-car interface, this will be a new weapon in deterring customers from switching to Android.
In addition, CarPlay has the potential to become another major source of revenue for Apple. Today, Apple doesn’t charge carmakers royalties or other fees for using CarPlay, but the system needs to be tied to the iPhone. That could change, however, as Apple becomes more involved in the auto industry. In-vehicle infotainment systems require special components, software, and engineering time that are often not core competencies for automakers. Gurman believes that many manufacturers are happy to hand this part of the business to Apple.
If the next version of CarPlay becomes popular enough, perhaps Apple can develop a version that’s completely built into the vehicle without tethering an iPhone. Google currently offers a similar system called Android Automotive, which is an upgraded version of Android Auto that needs to be tied to an Android phone. Apple’s carOS could be crucial for automakers, who are always looking for features that can increase sales and cut expenses, and paying royalties to have Apple help develop an in-car OS could be a good option.
So, how long until the Apple Car launches? Despite the recent departure of a large number of people from the project, Gurman still believes that Apple is moving forward with the car project. The latest news he got was that Apple was negotiating a deal for auto parts and an overall manufacturing supply chain.
Meanwhile, Kevin Lynch, the new head of Apple’s car project, has hired several of his lieutenants on the Apple Watch team to help develop the car. Lynch also recently revamped the automotive program management team, which people familiar with the matter said now hopes to meet Apple’s original deadline.
Gurman revealed that Apple has many of the auto industry’s best design experts working on the actual vehicle. These include former Aston Martin vehicle interiors manager Duncan Taylor, former Aston Martin chief concept engineer Pete Jolley, and former Tesla vice president of interiors and exteriors Steve MacManus and former Porsche executive Manfred Harrer.
While people familiar with the project are skeptical that Apple can achieve its goal of fully self-driving cars around 2025, the company still intends to release a car as early as 2025. Even without self-driving features, a well-designed Apple car with all the features of an iPhone could soon be a serious challenger to Tesla.