Will Apple’s CarPlay Win the Battle for the Inside of Your Vehicle?

Source: Apple.com

Source: Apple.com

With so many indispensable communication and entertainment features available through smartphones, the ability to seamlessly and safely access these features while in a vehicle has become an increasingly important concern for many consumers. As a result, many of the latest vehicles released by the auto industry include built-in support for various in-vehicle device integration systems. Meanwhile, smartphone makers and other tech companies are developing various platforms that they are each hoping will become the dominant operating system for connecting consumers’ smartphones to their vehicles. Not surprisingly, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) — a company with a reputation for providing its users with a seamless experience across its devices — is at the forefront of this battle for the inside of your car.

According to a new study from market research firm ABI Research, more than 24 million vehicles may be outfitted with Apple’s CarPlay in-vehicle device integration system by 2019. Apple first introduced its in-vehicle device integration system at last year’s Worldwide Developers Conference as iOS in the Car, before rebranding the system earlier this year as CarPlay. The Siri-powered system allows iPhone users to make calls, listen to messages, and dictate responses, all without using their hands. CarPlay also includes support for Apple Maps, iTunes Radio, and many other third-party apps. Apple already has over two dozen committed CarPlay partners in the automotive industry, according to its website.

Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL), which unveiled its own Android Auto in-vehicle device integration system at the company’s recent I/O developer conference, has lined up a similar number of automaker partners as well as over a dozen technology partners through its Open Automotive Alliance. Like Apple’s CarPlay does for the iPhone, Android Auto allows users to run their Android-based smartphone apps on a vehicle’s in-dash screen, including popular apps like Google Maps and Google Play Music. Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) also has its own in-car software called Windows for Sync, while BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) makes a widely-used in-vehicle software called QNX.

However, smartphone makers aren’t the only competitors in the in-vehicle device integration system market. Several open source solutions that already exist could also be considered competitors to Apple and Google. These include MirrorLink, Abalta Technologies’ WebLink, and various Linux-based platforms that follow GENIVI alliance specifications.

While it’s not yet clear which system will take the lead, ABI Research noted that Apple’s CarPlay is already playing an important role in creating interest in the overall in-vehicle device integration system market. “Many believe Apple is creating further fragmentations and a ripple effect in the industry by not being open,” stated ABI Research senior analyst Filomena Berardi. “However, love it or hate it, with Apple on the scene it certainly draws greater attention to in-car apps and now with the Android Auto standard on the scene both will certainly drive adoption of in-car apps.”

Despite the concerns about fragmentation, it is unlikely that consumers will ever have to worry about whether or not their new car is compatible with their smartphone. Since automakers do not want to risk losing a customer by making an exclusive commitment to one platform, it appears that most new vehicles are being outfitted with multiple in-vehicle device integration systems. Major car brands like Honda (NYSE:HMC), Hyundai, Audi, and others have committed to including both the Android Auto and the CarPlay systems in their future vehicle models.

Since the features offered by CarPlay and Android Auto are fairly comparable at this point, a consumer’s choice of an in-vehicle device integration system will likely be determined by whichever operating system they  are already using on their smartphone. However, if a company is able to increase the appeal of its system with a superior user experience, it could still gain an edge in the nascent in-vehicle device integration system market. Considering Apple’s track record of success when it comes to entering new markets with intuitive and well-designed products, CarPlay still stands a good chance of becoming the dominant platform for cars of the future.

Follow Nathanael on Twitter (@ArnoldEtan_WSCS)

More From Wall St. Cheat Sheet: