Apple CarPlay – Review and Road Test

Apple CarPlay main interface

By Jonathan Spira on 11 March 2014
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GENEVA — The idea of “infotainment” in a car is a relatively new concept and its origins can be traced back to the granddaddy of such systems, BMW’s iDrive, which was introduced in the 7 Series in 2001.

Before that, cars had a radio, perhaps a navigation system, and sometimes a built-in car phone but there was no platform supporting the various functions.

Today, there is so much technology in cars that it’s almost impossible to come up with an elegant way to control it all, although automakers are trying.

While early versions of iDrive were criticized as being counterintuitive, pioneers are recognized by the arrows in their backs.  Other manufacturers quickly followed: Ford with Sync, Mercedes-Benz with Comand, Audi with MMI, and more recently Cadillac with Cue.

A decade ago, I wrote that the automobile was “slowly turning into a mobile information platform.”  Today it’s here and it’s still largely about the music.  Indeed, music and the automobile have been paired since 1930, when Paul Galvin built the first successful car radio, naming it Motorola (a combination of Motor and Victrola) and made the relationship between the automobile and music legend.  Not only are cars the stuff about which ballads are written, but music has become an integral component of the driving experience.

Volvo's new center stack

Volvo’s new center stack

The way we get music into the vehicle, AM and FM radio, hadn’t changed all that much until 2001 when Apple introduced the iPod MP3 player.  In 2004 BMW was the first automaker to integrate the iPod into the vehicles’ sound systems and others followed.  In 2010, BMW introduced for a little-known feature in iOS4 called iPod Out, which rather than displaying BMW’s iPod interface would display Apple’s own, which will be controllable with the vehicle’s controls.

Today, while iPod support in autos has become ubiquitous, the discussion has changed: it’s now about connecting people’s iPhones to the car, not just their iPods.

Another activity we engage in while in cars is to make phone calls. Today, most people have either an iPhone or an Android smartphone, making it hard to contemplate a time when people used phones to primarily make calls.  While the earliest carphones were hardwired into the car, today we connect our smartphones via Bluetooth and access an array of features and functionality including Internet radio stations that stream music through our cars’ audio systems.

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