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Apple CarPlay POV: Were We On Target? Part I

In March 2014 Airbiquity published a white paper on Apple’s entry into the connected car market: “Apple CarPlay: Ready for Connected Car Prime Time?” The white paper provided analysis, opinion, and predictions about what we thought automakers would become concerned about as they began to thoroughly evaluate CarPlay—Apple’s newly announced connected car infotainment solution—for integration into their connected car programs and vehicles. Now that a year has passed we think it’s a good time to judge the accuracy of our predictions.

The white paper addressed multiple issue areas. But for the sake of brevity (this is after all a blog post) we’re going to judge the predictions one issue area at a time based on available independent research and commentary from knowledgeable press and industry analysts. The first installment will cover white paper issue #1: Limitations of 3rd Party Apps, Cloud Content, Devices, and Differentiation.

Airbiquity predicted automakers would become concerned about four key things: 1) Fielding infotainment solutions that were only compatible with Apple iPhone devices; 2) Having limited to no control over the infotainment content delivered into their vehicles; 3) The inability to differentiate their infotainment solution user experience from competitors; and 4) The potential for limited availability of third-party apps.

1) Restricted Handset Compatibility - According to SBD’s OE Guide Q4 2014 for North America, 14 of 21 automakers (67%) are integrating both CarPlay and Android Auto. Only 4 automakers (19%) are deploying CarPlay exclusively, and 3 automakers (14%) are deploying Android Auto exclusively for their infotainment solutions. SBD’s OE Guide Q4 2014 for Europe indicates a similar trend as North America, although with a slightly lower percentage of dual deployments. Given this information dual deployments are definitely the direction the majority of automakers will be taking. Another interesting observation related to dual deployments is an increase in CarPlay/Android Auto launch delays due to vehicle technology integration issues, larger vehicle production issues, or both. Nathanael Arnold from The Cheat Sheet references this in his October 2014 article: “Apple’s CarPlay Hits Speed Bump in Vehicle Platform Race.

  • Verdict: On Target - The majority of automakers are covering their bases by deploying “double stack” (CarPlay + Android Auto) and in some cases “triple stack” (CarPlay + Android Auto + Automaker Branded) infotainment delivery solutions.

2) Lack of Infotainment Content Control – Based on public and private discussions automakers are definitely NOT in the driver’s seat when it comes to decisions about what content CarPlay will make available in their vehicles, or when that content will be made available (the same goes for Android Auto). Automakers do have the opportunity to become involved in app guideline definitions and feature preferences, but the final say on infotainment content selection for their specific vehicles is literally out of their hands, and this is highly unfamiliar territory for automakers that have traditionally exercised large amounts of control over anything related to their vehicles’ design and production. Jess Bolluyt from The Cheat Sheet addresses this, as well as looming privacy issues, in her December 2014 article: “Who’s in Control of Your Data with Android Auto and CarPlay?”

  • Verdict: On Target - What’s not clear is whether automakers are actually bothered by this lack of control. This may be a function of they’re being so busy integrating and launching the technology that the lack of control—and its ramifications—have yet to be understood.

3) Lack of Competitive Differentiation – Based on CarPlay (and Android Auto) prototypes at CES 2015 it’s clear automaker deployments are in fact going to have identical user interfaces and functionality regardless of vehicle brand or model, and this should not be a surprise given this was Apple’s strategic intent all along. The lack of differentiation was also not lost on the press as evidenced by an unnamed reporter’s comment: “Don’t waste time running around to all of the automakers stands if you want to check out CarPlay –all you have to do is look at one because they’re all the same.” Yikes! Who thought such words would ever be uttered in the automotive market, one of the most competitive—if not most competitive—industries on the planet? We also know from recent announcements and statements that many automakers are pursuing “triple stack” deployments (defined above)

because they want their connected car programs and features to be differentiated from competitors, and are investing resources to make it happen. In late 2014 Ford put their “triple stack” stake in the sand by reinforcing the importance of Sync AppLink, and explaining how developers could create apps for Sync that are more feature-rich and tightly integrated into Ford vehicles than would be possible coding to CarPlay or Android Auto. Ford’s comments can be found in Kevin Fitchard’s October 2014 Gigaom article: Ford: Apple And Google Are Welcome In Our Cars, But Sync Is Here To Stay.”

  • Verdict: On Target - There is definitely a lack of competitive differentiation across automakers deploying CarPlay. This is best illustrated by looking at the prototypes from Mercedes and Hyundai. Would you be able to tell which vehicle is the higher priced luxury brand and which one is the lower-priced value brand?

4)Limited Third-Party App Availability – To Apple’s credit third-party apps have been introduced for CarPlay over the last six months such as MLB At Bat, CBS Radio, and Rdio to name a few. For streaming music iHeartRadio and Spotify are available even though they compete with Apple Beats and iTunes. And for podcasts Overcast and Umano are available even though they compete with Apple Podcast. However, Apple is showing signs of being selective about opening up CarPlay to competitors in a few strategic and high utilization app categories. One example is Apple granting Apple Maps navigation exclusivity thereby blocking user access to Google Maps and the navigation functionality they’ve come to expect on their iPhones. Another is Apple granting Apple iMessage messaging exclusivity thereby blocking user access to other messaging apps they may currently use and prefer on their iPhones.

  • Verdict: On Target – Although some third-party apps have been made available on CarPlay there is also evidence of third-party app exclusions, particularly in strategically important and high utilization categories like navigation and messaging mentioned above. We believe this will only change if Apple’s CarPlay user-base collectively exerts pressure on Apple and forces them to open up their ecosystem similar to what happened with the iPhone.