CarPlay Will Lock Users in Apple's Ecosystem and Throw Away the Key

CarPlay will become a key part of Apple's locked garden 10 photos
Photo: Bogdan Popa/autoevolution/Apple
CarPlay 2.0 in PorscheCarPlay 2.0 in Aston MartinCarPlay wallpaperAndroid Auto wallpapersCarPlay wallpaperNew wallpaper enabled with CanvasNew wallpaper enabled with CanvasNew wallpaper enabled with CanvasCarPlay 2.0 in Porsche
The fierce competition between iPhone and Android expanded to cars less than a decade ago, with Android Auto and CarPlay providing drivers with a convenient way to remain connected while driving.
Projecting apps like Google Maps, Waze, Apple Maps, Spotify, and YouTube Music to the larger screen in the vehicle reduced the distraction behind the wheel and made it easier for drivers to run these apps without picking up their phones.

The adoption of Android Auto and CarPlay has skyrocketed lately, and both have become essential capabilities in new cars. Apple says approximately 80% of the new-car buyers in the United States wouldn't consider a vehicle without CarPlay, while Google says Android Auto is already compatible with over 200 million cars on the road.

The battle that started with Android and iPhone and later expanded to Android Auto and CarPlay is now moving to a new front. Android Automotive and CarPlay 2.0 have the difficult mission of conquering the next generation of cars. Google is clearly taking the lead already, thanks to partnerships with a growing number of carmakers.

Apple seems late to the party, as the first two models with the new-generation CarPlay are projected to launch this year. Apple already promised that many other carmakers would follow in Porsche's and Aston Martin's footsteps, but considering that Android Automotive is already in many more cars, Google is the company that is apparently winning the fight.

However, Apple seems to pay attention to many more factors, one of which has nothing to do with its automotive ambitions but comes down to growing the Apple ecosystem as a whole.

The difference revolves around how the two systems run in the car.

CarPlay 2\.0 in Porsche
Photo: Porsche
Android Automotive is an embedded operating system that runs at the vehicle hardware level. Unlike Android Auto, it doesn't need a smartphone and can run independently from the mobile device. Drivers can configure their Google accounts on the car, but they can own any phone they want, including an iPhone. Moreover, Android Automotive also supports phone mirroring systems—it's an operating system that allows Android Auto and CarPlay to run on top of it.

The new-generation CarPlay won't do this, and Apple made a wise choice that'll eventually protect its ecosystem. The company explored multiple approaches during the CarPlay 2.0 development phase, including offering the improved experience as a stand-alone operating system like Android Automotive. Disconnecting CarPlay from mobile devices would have provided carmakers with more freedom, something that manufacturers seem to enjoy on Android Automotive.

However, Apple eventually determined that leaving smartphones behind is not good for its ecosystem, as customers would have the freedom to use whatever mobile device they want. Including an Android phone, that is.

The next-generation CarPlay will still be powered by an iPhone. The connection method will be identical to the current version, albeit my sources told me that Apple at one point pondered forcing requesting carmakers to offer wireless support exclusively. It's unclear if the company pursued this idea, so time will tell if CarPlay 2.0 lands with wired and wireless options.

CarPlay 2\.0 in Aston Martin
Photo: Aston Martin
Apple's strategy makes sense for a company that has always been obsessed with a closed ecosystem, keeping customers locked in by making the iPhone the core of all experiences. Apple's walled garden has often been criticized by rivals and even users, but the company still has a loyal customer base.

CarPlay 2.0 will only work with an iPhone, so if you have an Android device and buy a car offering the new-generation Apple experience, you'll have to get an iPhone. If you have an old iPhone and buy a car offering the new-generation Apple experience, you'll have to get a new iPhone. If you don't have a phone, which I doubt, and buy a car offering the new-generation Apple experience, you guessed it, you'll have to get an iPhone.

Apple wins on all fronts, and this is the reason that keeping the existing connection method in the new-generation experience is a wise choice from the company's perspective (until regulators start looking into the automotive space).

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Photo: Packix

The company's biggest challenge was to make the connection more convenient and straightforward. An embedded operating system like Android Automotive needs nothing. You turn on the engine, and there you go, Android is already running on your screen. Sign in with your Google account, and you also get more features and keep the apps running in the car in sync with your mobile device.

On CarPlay 2.0, you'll still have to connect the iPhone to the vehicle every time you turn on the engine. This is why Apple pondered an exclusive wireless mode, something the company could have enforced, considering the new-generation experience will be available only in new cars (models with the existing CarPlay version won't support the new release, and an upgrade won't be offered).

A wired connection could still be offered, but Apple also explored the option of requesting carmakers to offer a dedicated mobile phone "slot" where users could put their iPhones to charge while running CarPlay 2.0. I'm being told this proposal never left the drawing board, though.

We should hear more about Apple's new-generation CarPlay next month at WWDC, but if you thought Apple's closed ecosystem was opening its doors, especially after all the changes happening in the EU, that's not going to happen. Apple keeps finding new ways to keep users locked in, and more surprisingly, users don't even mind.
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About the author: Bogdan Popa
Bogdan Popa profile photo

Bogdan keeps an eye on how technology is taking over the car world. His long-term goals are buying an 18-wheeler because he needs more space for his kid’s toys, and convincing Google and Apple that Android Auto and CarPlay deserve at least as much attention as their phones.
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