Apple’s Next-Gen CarPlay Teaser Is Making Me Anxious About Android Automotive

Apple kicked off WWDC today with a look at iOS 16, an update that promises to bring a lot of Android customization to iPhones. Almost every feature announced in today’s keynote — from that fancy new lock screen to that drag-and-drop feature we’re begging Google to copy — will arrive this fall. That said, one thing provoked today that decidedly no arriving in the next few months – or even this year – is the next-gen version of CarPlay, a tool that appears to rival Android Automotive as tech companies duel over the fate of their next car.

Google currently offers two very different car experiences for drivers, although you’re probably only familiar with one. Android Auto is what appears on your on-screen dashboard when connected to your car, showing apps, navigation, music and more. All in all, it’s the perfect road companion – but it can only communicate with your car up to a point.


Android Automotive is an entire OS built on top of Android – it even gets its own OS updates. Automotive is intended for automakers like GM, Ford and Polestar to power the entire vehicle. This includes your speedometer and other gauges, tire pressure and climate control, plus the same basic navigation and media controls provided by Auto. Basically, Automotive is meant to replace the junk software vehicles are often running, offering a manufacturer-customized experience with all the Google bells and whistles built in.

Automotive is nothing new – it’s been around in some form for over five years. And yet, talking about it routinely requires an explanation similar to the one above, because Google still hasn’t taken the vehicle’s on-board operating system seriously. No matter how many partners it announces, no matter how many vehicles support the project, Google continues to let Automotive languish as a side project, built for automakers in the first place and never coming into the hands of consumers in a mainstream. way.

In theory, Google has many partners lined up to support the automotive sector, including GM, Ford (eventually) and Honda. Those are some big players, and with vehicles like the 2022 GMC Sierra and its sister truck, Chevy’s 2022 Silverado, we’re finally seeing the OS really hit the streets with cars that regular consumers are buying – no offense, Polestar. This should prove that Google has a big lead in this space, but I can’t help but feel like Apple is lining up to eat Automotive’s lunch here.

This next-gen version of CarPlay is a long way off – Apple’s website says vehicle ads are coming in late 2023, suggesting it won’t be released to consumers until the 2024 model year vehicles arrive. That said, today’s teaser was equally promising and intriguing. Apple showed an interface that worked a lot like Android Automotive, communicating directly with your car’s instruments to gather information about your vehicle’s current status. Speedometer, odometer, how much fuel is in your tank—it’s all here.\

Four custom looks for Apple’s next-gen CarPlay.

But unlike the manufacturer’s first platform that Google built with Automotive, Apple is highlighting the driver here first. Review Apple’s announcement today and you’ll notice that the language is all driver-centric.

“We’re also excited to give you the ability to make the core of the driving experience unique to you. We’ve carefully crafted instrument panel options that range from modern to traditional, using different colors, dial treatments, backgrounds and layouts, that provide different looks and sensations.”

In an unexpected twist, this version of CarPlay seems more in line with how we normally think about Android. It’s open to customization and personalization – it even has widgets scattered throughout the UI that sync with your apps and accounts. It’s a far cry from the boring, mechanical feel brought by many versions of the Automotive, actually presenting itself with a sense of character and cohesion. In comparison, here’s how the Google Maps and Assistant icons clash with the rest of the GMC experience.

This is Android Automotive, but you’d never know by looking at it.

In fact, a quick look at GMC and Chevy’s websites for their respective automotive-supported vehicles reveals some serious flaws in Google’s plan. Not only has the UI been customized to hell – the two companies even use slightly different icons despite their shared parent company – but in the case of GMC, the first photo showing Android Automotive isn’t highlighting the Assistant or the Maps, but CarPlay. In a window, surrounded by flashy icons placed on top of Android, is Apple’s car-friendly interface.

These icons are like a third-party package that you cannot change.

Unless Google makes some major changes to the way it’s developing and marketing Android Automotive — making it more consumer-friendly than automakers — I’m not sure how the company will maintain a foothold in this market. Apple’s next-gen CarPlay appears to require an iPhone to run, as the car and driver’s device communicate with each other, which gives Google some edge here. Every driver, whether using iOS or Android, can interact with Automotive while in the car. But compared to CarPlay, something featured heavily on the websites of every supported automaker around the world, none of Automotive’s current customers seem intent on uttering the word “Android.” Leaving aside some vague references to Assistant, this software can be developed by anyone.

Google has a big advantage here – again, we’re talking about vehicles that are at least two years on the road. But CarPlay is in a position where iPhone owners understand exactly what it is. Extending your range to include every other aspect of your car won’t be a difficult adjustment to make. If Google wants to become the default way for people to interact with their vehicles — and not just an OEM for automakers — it needs to rethink its strategy for the automotive sector going forward. Otherwise, it will become the home screen iPhone owners will see before CarPlay takes over forever.

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