Should You Upgrade to Apple CarPlay Today?

Published On June 6, 2015 | Feature

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CarPlay is a fast becoming this year’s buzzword for new vehicle manufacturers and aftermarket stereo makers at the moment; just like what 3D and curved displays have been for TV makers. CarPlay (and Google Auto) is a key bullet point to have in upcoming car press-releases, and it is also a key ingredient for many owners and new buyers that are looking to buy new or willing to embrace Apple’s new tech into their existing vehicles. But should you jump into Apple’s CarPlay ecosystem, today? Let’s take a look if you should…

Prepare to be an Early Adopter

New vehicles aside, you’ll be more likely to see an CarPlay aftermarket stereo installed into an existing vehicle, at least in 2015. The first fleet of CarPlay enabled systems from Pioneer and Alpine have been out for a while now and many early adopters are jumping in and replacing their existing factory-installed entertainment systems.

The thought of having your iPhone fully integrated into your dashboard is compelling for many of us. However, like many first iterations of a new platform, you’ll be partaking in what I’d like to call, ‘guinea pig territory’.

Being an early adopter, you aren’t just testing Apple’s first volley into the car entertainment market, but you are also installing and using the first attempts from all the software developers who are upgrading and releasing their apps with CarPlay support. Many are thankfully getting it right, but there are some others that have become frustratingly no where near the mark when it comes to a stable and intuitive CarPlay experience – I am looking at you Spotify!

It’s All In The Touch

So you’re ok with being a test bed for Apple’s in-car software and also for the developers of the applications that are being made for the platform, but what about the hardware? Are you willing to spend between £400-£1500 to have the first chance of having CarPlay in your vehicle?

Technology, and buying into it early can prove to be a gamble. We’re still riding the generation of stereos that still choose to use resistive over the improved capacitive touch screen technology. The technology is here, hell, Apple can produce a £399, 9.7″ tablet with more grunt than anything that is sitting inside your car dashboard today, so how can aftermarket system makers get away with using old tech, with very low-end processors, using touchscreen technology that can’t even get close to the performance of an iPad, which costs half the price of some aftermarket systems these days!

This will improve over time, for sure, but it seems we’re still stuck with buying into old technology with CarPlay tacked on to it. Touch screen technology has improved, it’s just that these manufacturers need to acknowledge it, embrace it, and pass these improvements on to the consumer.

Faster Performance Required Today

Stereos are doing much more than simply playing back audio from a Cassette and CD, or listening to live broadcasts from a FM/DAB Radio. They are now guiding you around streets, reading your news and messages. All of this extra demand requires faster processing power inside your stereo. For the less tech-savvy, in-car entertainment systems are not so easily to swap in and out as they are for a new TV or washing machine, they are also costly to install, unless you’re doing it yourself. So this is something you only really want to do once during the life time of your vehicle.

There will be better models on the horizon – that is a given – but I am sure by the time the second generation systems come around, we will begin to see in-car stereo makers acknowledge the need for faster processors and improved touch screens to give the best experience to the consumer.

We’re already starting to see second generation systems from Pioneer, mere months after the first generation of CarPlay systems released. This new in-car technology is improving at a rapid pace, and aftermarket makers are doing their best to catch up.

Wait…Wireless is Coming!

A few months ago, Apple revealed and then redacted CarPlay from having a wireless connection option in its iOS 8.3 software update. So until we see this feature return in a public release of its iOS software, we’re stuck with plugging in a lightning cable to our iPhones. That maybe acceptable for most of us, but for some users that are used to using wireless Bluetooth to connect to their in-car system, the experience and convenience isn’t quite the same.

Wireless CarPlay is coming. I believe we will hear more about it on June 8th 2015, at Apples WWDC conference, and if we don’t, I am sure we will be more wiser on wireless CarPlay support before the year is out. At this moment in writing, it feels like many manufacturers are holding out for their announcements, either waiting on Apple, the courts (due to safety concerns with the technology) or they are just busy creating their next wireless compatible CarPlay models for a release in Q4 2015/2016.

So What Do We Think?

If you’re willing to accept the early niggles with the platform, as well as developers testing what is best for the in-car entertainment experience, then jump in and install a CarPlay compatible system today! However, I feel we are very close (maybe a within a few months) to a whole new generation of systems that will bring a boost in speed and performance, wireless CarPlay, increased smartphone compatibility by including MirrorLink and Google Auto, and hopefully vastly improved touchscreen technology with enhanced multitouch.

CarPlay is technically a software-based platform, which mirrors how applications are programmed for the platform once it has connected to the car system. Technology and performance is down to the hardware and aftermarket systems need to catch up with technology that is rapidly outpacing the leisurely evolution of in-car systems.

With Pioneer releasing their second generation of systems last month, Alpine has been quiet on this front. I am sure this is down to updating its technology and waiting on Apple’s say on wireless CarPlay. Parrot and Kenwood have also systems to release this year with Kenwood’s proving to show good promise with speed increases and an improved touch sensitive screen, demoed at this year’s CES.

The first company to produce an iPad-like experience in the car, in terms of performance and touch experience, will be the one that will make it, in what will fast become a CarPlay heavy market in years to come. Maybe even Apple might have a go, and if they do, aftermarket manufactures should be worried!