A new front has opened up in the platform wars between Apple and Google—the car. Apple has just unveiled its CarPlay system, the culmination of its ‘iOs in the Car’ initiative, which was launched last year.
CarPlay turns the screen of your vehicle’s dashboard into an extension of your iPhone, allowing drivers to control apps like maps and music through voice commands or a few quick swipes.
A handful of Apple’s European partners—namely Volvo, Mercedes-Benz and Ferrari—will be the first to equip their vehicles with the new technology, but a huge number of automakers, including BMW, Ford, GM and Honda, have iOS-compatible models coming up on the horizon.
In January, Google launched its Open Automotive Alliance, a partnership of the tech titan with Audi, GM, Honda, Hyundai and Nvidia. It’s modeled off the Open Handset Alliance, which presaged the dominance of Android as the operating-system-of-choice for smartphones.
Google and Apple’s approaches to the car differ somewhat. While CarPlay turns a car’s screen into an extension of an Apple device, Google wants Android to actually power the software on the dashboard.
The stakes in this battle are quite high, both for the tech companies and the auto manufacturers. “Infotainment” has long been an area of fierce competition between carmakers and a way to sell profitable add-ons to younger drivers that are hungry for the latest technology. But those systems, generally powered by Microsoft and Blackberry’s QNX division, have lacked the type of developer ecosystem that Apple’s App Store and Google Play bring to the table.
With Apple and Google now in the mix, an explosion of apps built specifically for vehicles is on the way. Whether you want to pay for gas from your car, check real-time traffic or find a free parking spot, an app will soon be able to help you out.
While Apple now has a head start—even before CarPlay, Honda has already rolled out a number of models that allow for Siri-based voice commands—the openness of the Android model is going to be tempting for many auto manufacturers that want to maintain as much control over the user experience as possible. Google’s recent acquisition of Nest also opens up interesting possibilities. The latest Mercedes C-Series integrates with the company’s thermostats to allow you to warm up your house from your car, and make sure it’s good and toasty after a long road trip.
The early loser in this battle appears to be Microsoft. The company’s Ford Sync system was plagued by glitches, leading to lower reliability ratings for Ford vehicles.
Blackberry should be worried as well. QNX is important to the company’s turnaround plan and any new competition in the car market is sure to hurt them. However, QNX already allows for Android apps and has a reputation for reliability. The software also adds an extra-layer of security that an Android-powered system would lack.
So will iPhone users who buy an Android car be left in the lurch? It’s unlikely. Many auto manufacturers are working with both companies to try and keep their systems open for all devices. But Thilo Koslowski, VP and lead automotive analyst at Gartner Inc., does see a future where after a customer chooses which car they want, they can choose the operating system to go along with it.
“I do definitely believe that the car companies have to offer all of the choices to consumers.”
Overall, the trend is clear—your car is set to be the ultimate mobile device.
“The goal here is to extend to consumers the digital lifestyle into the automobile,” says Koslowski.