Apple’s CarPlay: Will our phone choice start to determine our car choice?

Apple's new CarPlay allows direct integration with cars from a limited number of manufacturers. As our phones become the centre of our connected lives, will they determine our car choices?

Apple’s latest round of integration with the car has a new name and more details. CarPlay (trading off the AirPlay brand that people familiar with the Apple TV and various stereos will know) is here:

The CarPlay system was revealed today during the Geneva Motor Show, where partners Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo all announced that they’d begin shipping CarPlay-enabled vehicles to drivers this week. In 2014, that group will expand to include Honda, Hyundai and Jaguar, and beyond that it’ll ship on cars from BMW, Chevrolet, Ford, Kia, Land Rover, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Open, Peugeot-Citroën, Subaru, Suzuki and Toyota.

It’s designed to do for the car what the Apple TV did for the television: allow your iPhone to extend into it without Apple actually having to launch a tv – or a car. Much as we might like the idea of a car designed by Jony Ive, I think we can discount that as a serious possibility any time soon.

What makes this such a different field from most tech products we’re used to is that cars exist at a very different cycle from phone or computers. The majority of people only replace their car infrequently. (I’ve had four in 20 years – and I only gave one of them up through choice. The other two were written off by the insurance company after a crash and a break-in, respectively.) So, the spread of this technology is going to be gradual – initially into the sort of people that buy brand new cars, and then into the wider market of people who buy their cars second hand.

That means that the technology in play has to last – and in that context, Apple’s switch to the Lightening connector a year ago starts to make a lot of sense. The tech for the next decade is in place – and it could take that long to really establish itself.

Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Apple make a long-term play. The Apple TV has been kicking around for nearly seven years – and it’s finally reached the point where Tim Cook is confident enough to stop calling it a hobby. TVs, like cars, have long replacement cycles – but they have standardised interfaces to them, which the Apple TV can easily hook into. The world is significantly more complex in the car. Indeed, we now effectively have two different standards competing, one based on iOS and the other on Android:

Google and a number of automakers are planning to bring Android to cars with the launch of a new group called the Open Automotive Alliance. The alliance consists of Google, GM, Honda, Audi, Hyundai, and chipmaker Nvidia, and will focus on bringing the successful mobile operating system to in-car entertainment systems “in a way that is purpose built for cars.” The first cars with Android integration are planned for launch by the end of 2014.

Right now, we choose our cars and sort of add phone integration later. My current car had no useful connections for integrating with a phone – so I had to replace the head unit to get it all working via USB or Bluetooth. I wonder if – over the course of the next few years – wether we might end us starting to choose our next car by the brand of phone we own, not just the reputation of the manufacturer in isolation.