Apple’s CarPlay Hits Speed Bump in Vehicle Platform Race



The next big smartphone market battle may be fought on the road. No, we’re not anticipating a Mad Max-style battle fought between Apple and Google employees driving around souped-up cars (although that is a strangely appealing image). Rather, we’re talking about Apple and Google’s ongoing fight to become the smartphone platform of choice for the cars of the future. As more and more features become available through smartphones, consumers are increasingly demanding that the infotainment systems in their vehicles work seamlessly with their smartphones. According to ABI Research, “shipments of connected in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems equipped with one or more smartphone integration technologies will grow substantially during the next five years to reach 35.1 million units globally by 2018.”

Apple’s in-vehicle device integration system is known as CarPlay (previously called “iOS in the Car”) and it is — not surprisingly — designed to work only with iPhones. On the other hand, Google’s in-vehicle device integration system is known as Android Auto and it is designed to work with any smartphones that use the open source Android operating system. So far, the two smartphone rivals appear to be evenly matched. CarPlay has 29 automotive brands that have committed to offering car models with support for the Cupertino-based company’s in-vehicle device integration system, according to Apple’s website. On the other side, Google has 28 automotive brands that have promised to have new vehicles “coming soon” with Android Auto support.

However, a new report from ABI Research suggests that Apple’s CarPlay has unknown issues that may delay its rollout by some high-profile automakers this year. While ABI Research didn’t name which automakers would be holding off on providing support for Apple’s in-vehicle device integration system, 9to5Mac contacted several companies that confirmed that they were delaying the release of their CarPlay-compatible vehicles.  According to 9to5Mac, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo have both pushed their CarPlay vehicle plans into 2015. Meanwhile, Toyota has refused to provide a date for when consumers can expect to see CarPlay in its vehicles, although it previously suggested a debut in 2015.

As noted by ABI Research, the delayed implementation of Apple’s CarPlay system in some of these car brands may allow Android Auto to “ramp-up quicker than previously expected,” although it’s unclear if this would give Android Auto a long-term advantage. “It appears that some car makers are going down either the CarPlay or Android Auto route,” observed ABI Research senior analyst Filomena Berardi. “This could be because of preference; for example, one car maker stated it felt that more of its customers owned an iPhone, in addition some car makers perceive Google’s Android to be a greater threat than Apple.”

ABI Research also highlighted several car brands that have so far only committed to supporting Android Auto, including “Acura, Bentley, Infiniti, Maserati, Renault, SEAT, Škoda, and Volkswagen.” However, it should be noted that since Acura and Infiniti are the luxury vehicle divisions for Honda and Nissan respectively, CarPlay compatibility in those vehicles may be implied through the parent companies’ support for Apple’s platform.

While, the delayed release of CarPlay-compatible vehicles would seem to give Android Auto a competitive edge, Berardi pointed out that one reason many car makers liked Android Auto was that it was “a more open platform.” For this reason, Berardi believes that “going forward the majority of car makers will support both; in fact, to-date 20 car makers have said that is precisely what they will do.”

At least one automaker has suggested that issues with creating support for multiple operating systems contributed to its decision to delay the rollout of CarPlay. According to IHS Technology, “Mercedes-Benz will delay its deployment of Apple CarPlay until 2015 in order to refine the head-unit to work with other competing mobile operating systems.”

In other words, regardless of which system gets to market first, it appears that most automakers’ long-term plans are to provide support for both systems. Although there may be a few car brands that opt for an exclusive smartphone platform deal, it just makes more sense to offer compatibility for both operating systems, since no automaker would want to lose a car sale simply because a vehicle didn’t integrate with a customer’s smartphone. Either way, the outcome of the battle for the inside of your vehicle will likely not be known for several more years, when more cars with in-vehicle infotainment systems that can sync to a smartphone are actually on the road.

Follow Nathanael on Twitter (@ArnoldEtan_WSCS)

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