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From the Geneva Auto Show: Apple’s CarPlay system is what you’d expect from a company that has perfected the art of easy-to-use technology

March 7th, 2014 |  Published in Connected Car, Mobile World Congress 2014


CarPlay 2


Gregory P. Bufithis


7 March 2014 – There’s a technology battle ahead in the car industry, one that many may not have seen coming, but I have been writing about it for about two years as have numerous technology pundits. At the Mobile World Congress (MWC) this year it was a major theme, with 14 sessions/presentations and 36+ vendors with related tech: “the connected car”. Next week I will have a detailed post with video interviews from MWC.

At the Geneva Auto Show this year … which runs from March 6th to March 16th … the reason for this battle has been attributed to an overall theory (and there is room for argument) that the auto industry has, more or less, ceased making bad cars. These days they’re all pretty good. They’ll start on a cold morning, idle happily in traffic on a hot afternoon, protect you in a crash, and look pretty good while doing it. Yes, that last point is always debatable, and certainly some cars are better suited for different tasks than others, but the key is that it’s genuinely hard to buy a “bad” new car.

So the auto industry Talking Heads say this is making it mighty hard for auto manufacturers to stand above the crowd. So, while performance and efficiency continue as strong talking points, in-car technology has become one of the most important points of differentiation for auto manufacturers. The amazing pace of advancement of mobile technology has raised the bar. Most car shoppers walk into the dealership with an incredibly advanced and easy-to-use piece of consumer electronics in their purse or pocket, and so it’s natural they’d want their next car to offer some of the same appeal.

I am here in Geneva for just 3 days … shopping for a Ferrari or  Lamborghini, of course … and I am focused on some tech that was not on display at MWC, although the Apple “stealth” contingent was in Barcelona talking it up.

Apple’s new CarPlay system is as simple to use as you would expect from a company that has perfected the art of easy-to-use technology. Apple unveiled Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo as its first partners to use CarPlay in their vehicles. A natural fit given Apple owns the high-end of the smartphone market.

I tagged along with a group from Auto World and tried it out in a Ferrari FF at the Italian carmaker’s buzzing stand. The FF is Ferrari’s version of a “family car,” something Chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo would use to drive the wife and kids to the mountains or the beach. Uh-huh. The one I sat down in had a pair of Ferrari-branded skis stowed in back. Nice product placement.

An Apple employee showed us how to hook up an Apple phone by opening up the central armrest. Inside the compartment was a jack, and his iPhone.

With the press of a button, the familiar Apple icons appear on the car’s entertainment screen. The driver or passenger can active the phone, messaging, podcasts, music or map icons either my button, by touchscreen or by Siri voice command.

Apple hasn’t opened up CarPlay to most third party apps, so there’s no Facebook or Twitter on the dash. For safety reasons, it’s sticking to its own audio apps and a few audio apps like Spotify. When the Apple employee said, “Siri, find me a museum,” it came up with 12 options scattered around Geneva.

Apple has been involved with cars for 10 years, going back to the iPod. We all remember those special iPod auto adapters/connectors. But this is the first time it’s brought its iconic interface directly into an automobile.

And the big issue: driver distraction. Quite simply: mobile operating systems aren’t safe while driving. Never intended to be thumbed while behind the wheel, with study after study showing that trying to do so makes you about as capable as the average drunk. More on that next week.

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