The State of the Connected Car (Part II): The CarPlay experience

February 28, 2017
Patrick Weissert

In the second post of our connected car series, we will take a closer look at Apple’s CarPlay in-car infotainment product. In 2017, almost every relevant OEM, with very few exceptions, will have CarPlay available to consumers in large sections of their portfolios (see here).

The big plus of CarPlay is that getting it started is as easy as pie – once you have survived the onerous OEM purchasing process, that is! (see my last post). You only need to plug your iPhone in, confirm a couple of steps, and your infotainment panel switches to the CarPlay experience. It is pleasingly familiar to the other Apple products with all the icons you know and love from your iPhones, iPads and other Apple gadgets.

CarPlay and the sound of silence

Now, the tricky part starts. For example: Listening to Spotify. The success rate here is 50/50 for me – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and I have yet to find out when and why it works sometimes but not others. At a minimum it always takes a couple of minutes after starting CarPlay until Spotify can be used, a time during which a very unsatisfying “broken” experience fills the screen (see screenshot). But why the long wait?

Once it begins working it can do all the things you would expect of a music player, but for some reason the cover art design is totally missing. For me personally, this is a big negative as the cover art is part of the song, it makes the information glanceable, and … everybody else has it so why can't they? Secondly, CarPlay seems to be streaming all playback from the cloud instead of using the songs stored locally on my phone – lucky you if you have a big data plan!

I’m sorry, I did not catch that, who do you want to call?

On to something easier then – like, making a phone call. I have become accustomed to being patient when it comes to getting Siri to do what I need it to do on the phone. It’s not always easy, but I usually ultimately succeed in calling the correct person. This isn’t the case with CarPlay. For some reason CarPlay does not understand the names of my wife, my kids or my co-founder when in the car, but when I’m outside it and use Siri on the iPhone it understands these names perfectly well. Surprising, but that’s the way it is.

So, voice activating phone calls – does not work for me! Back to the phonebook. I thought the point of CarPlay and Siri was that I don’t need to scroll through 4.000 contacts in order to make a call? The same problem holds true for sending messages. Selecting a recipient by voice recognition is impossible, and dictating the message even more so (as demonstrated by Jeremy Clarkson in The Grand Tour). Something went horribly wrong here. Receiving messages and having them read to you does work, but, if your life happens to take place in more than one language, you’ll have to chose which part of your life gets read to you in the wrong language.

Next, what about – navigation? I have to admit that I am not a user of Apple Maps on the phone or anywhere else. And that, it turns out, is a problem. Why? Because again, dictating a destination never EVER works however hard I try. So my last resort was to look for “recent” or “saved” destinations, but of course this wasn’t possible. It doesn’t even look up potential destinations from my calendar as is done by a range of other connected car solutions. So, navigation is a fail, too.

Like a smartphone in 2005

And so the list goes on with other issues big and small. The bottom line for me was: I stopped using CarPlay. After months of hassle to get access to CarPlay (see my last post), I stopped using it after just a couple of weeks. I can use Spotify perfectly well with the OEM infotainment system (including cover art, btw). Phone calls work better with the OEM system too. Messaging doesn’t work in CarPlay either, so it’s not a reason to stay. For navigation I prefer the OEM system, because at least I can enter destinations, and it doesn’t stream the entire route from the cloud to the phone. I guess the experience is comparable to a 2005 smartphone – it comes with some nice features, but somehow most of them are so broken that they are not worth bothering with. More work to do!

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