New Apple CarPlay Makes Strides for Automotive OEMs, but Competition from Google Looms

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By Abu Miah | 3Q 2024 | IN-7424

Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference 2024 (WWDC24) featured key updates to next-generation CarPlay that Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) will welcome, but ownership of the in-vehicle experience is still in contention. OEMs must consider the role of CarPlay in their wider digital strategies, and Apple must continue to innovate to compete with Android Auto for market share in the automotive smartphone integration space.

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Apple's New CarPlay Targets Longstanding Automaker Concerns


The long-awaited update to Apple CarPlay was showcased at Apple Worldwide Developers Conference 2024 (WWDC24), and it comes with many changes that automakers will welcome. These include:

  • Modular component design, for both instrument panels and other driver screens, including fuel gauges, Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems (ADAS) features, climate control, and other infotainment applications, allowing Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) to customize the structure of the User Interface (UI).
  • Gauge customization, giving OEMs a blank canvas to easily design their own instrument panel gauges within the CarPlay ecosystem.
  • Dynamic Content, i.e., widgets for the vehicle that can be placed by the OEM or driver according to preference.
  • A “punch-through” UI layer, where Apple gives OEMs the most control over the UI, allowing them to feed through their existing systems to the CarPlay system with linked buttons, giving OEMs more choice over what parts of the vehicle experience they want complete control over and what they want to utilize Apple’s toolkit for.
  • Wireless-only support, allowing CarPlay to boot up the moment the vehicle is unlocked or the doors are opened, with some resources run locally in the vehicle and the iPhone being in charge of non-critical assets.

These features address a range of OEM concerns, such as the prospect of Apple owning the entire in-vehicle experience through CarPlay and the loss of OEM brand identity.

An Incomplete Toolkit Approach Will Lead to a Fragmented In-Car User Experience


Apple’s toolkit approach is a step in the right direction—an ABI Insight covering the CarPlay announcement at WWDC22 noted that OEMs aren’t happy about the prospect of giving up their ownership of the vehicle infotainment experience, and Apple’s adjustments since then have mirrored the recommendations outlined by ABI Research. The flexibility of OEMs creating their own UI components with Apple’s toolkit and the freedom to take ownership where they see necessary, through the punch-through UI, is a significant advancement from where Apple was 2 years ago. Apple calls this new approach a “co-branded experience,” taking parts of Apple’s identity and parts of the OEM’s.

However, Apple does apply some restrictions to how OEMs can design parts of the UI, such as for the instrument panel. Despite offering gauge customization options, font choice is restricted to Apple’s San Francisco family of fonts, and while it can be modified in several ways, this restriction does enforce the Apple “look and feel” onto OEMs to some degree. This enforcement of a certain element in the user experience is something which OEMs are not used to—traditionally, their suppliers do all they can do to support the automaker’s brand, but Google, Apple, and Amazon have very public, consumer-facing brands, so they will be more concerned about how the automakers represent their solutions in their vehicles.

Also considering the punch-through UI layer, where OEMs can feed through their existing systems through embedded deep-link buttons in the CarPlay UI, the users may experience a disjointed driving experience where they are jumping between the Apple-OEM hybrid UI to the OEM UI to the Apple infotainment UI for music and maps, and so on.

The Balance of Power in Smartphone Integration


While giving OEMs more choice in the design and function of their UI is an absolute positive change, OEMs may be hesitant at next-generation CarPlay integration if they feel as though the Apple design philosophy is being imposed upon them. The merging of the consumer electronics user experience with the in-vehicle experience is dependent on the cohesion of tech giants with OEMs, and  neither will be happy about surrendering control of the consumers’ experiences using their products. However, given that CarPlay has become a must-have for a significant proportion of consumers, OEMs may have to make do with this new version of CarPlay. Apple estimates that 30%, and in some surveys up to 80%, of consumers globally consider lack of CarPlay support a deal-breaker or strong consideration for their electric cars, and this number is 35% for Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles. This level of preference makes CarPlay integration a more-or-less must-have, especially for OEMs that lack the resources to build their own UI platforms, so at this stage in the industry, OEMs need Apple more than Apple needs the OEMs.

Additionally, OEMs in the mass-market segment may force the hand of more premium brands, as they have little to lose by integrating CarPlay due to the lower number of resources they could feasibly invest in building their own systems. If consumers find these features in mass-market models, they will expect premium brands to offer the same, and even more, so these premium OEMs may be forced to utilize Apple’s toolkit to benefit from their integration. For these OEMs, as they continue to refine their strategies for in-housing development of different parts of their technology stack, Apple CarPlay integration could play a role as an in-between step toward a more complete form of infotainment and UI ownership. By integrating a cohesive platform for smartphone integration through CarPlay as a temporary measure, they avoid losing the consumers who value the ease of use of Apple’s ecosystem.

For Apple, giving some ground to OEMs is a significant step, and while their changes are more acceptable for OEMs than previous iterations of CarPlay, they must still contend with competing smartphone integration solutions, namely Google’s Android Auto. Google’s 2024 announcements regarding Android Auto include the long-awaited integration of video apps, games, and browsers, notably including YouTube. Google also announced a car-ready mobile apps program, which is intended to widen the scope of the Google Play Store for Android Auto. This will enable developers to more easily launch their apps in vehicles, as long as they meet certain criteria regarding screen compatibility and a host of other requirements that vary according to the category of the application. CarPlay does not feature a similar program. For Apple to increase its stake in the automotive industry, attention should be paid in the short term to this type of adjustments, while in the longer term, it can focus on refining its collaborative UI toolkit with its OEM partner to find the correct balance, which may vary OEM-to-OEM, between each of their brand identities in the vehicle.


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