So at long last, Apple has unleashed CarPlay, the auto integration scheme formerly known as iOS in the car, and it appears most major car makers — and some not so major — have embraced it. For the well-heeled, you'll soon be able to buy a new Ferrari with CarPlay. For the rest of us, you'll probably find CarPlay support in your new Honda or Kia in the next year or two, and it's possible that there may be aftermarket systems that will add the feature to an existing vehicle.
Based on the published reports, though Apple doesn't admit to the technical details, CarPlay is much like AirPlay. AirPlay lets you play the contents of your Mac, iPad, iPhone or iPod touch on your TV, courtesy of Apple TV. CarPlay lets you play your iPhone 5, iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s on specially equipped cars via the lightning connector.
It all sounds intriguing and it'll be interesting to see whether putting the Apple look and feel on your auto's often clumsy infotainment screen will provide a much more enjoyable driving experience. Indeed, you can't underestimate the impact of a badly designed and poor performing infotainment system.
Overall, motor vehicles are far more reliable these days. Being able to avoid major repair bills for 100,000 or 200,000 miles — or even more — is no longer a rarity. But the infotainment system will drag down reliability. That dreadful MyFord Touch system, which incorporates technology from Microsoft, has seriously impaired the ratings of Ford products in J.D. Powers surveys. In this year's annual auto issue, Consumer Reports, while praising the Honda Accord as the best "midsized sedan," nonetheless warned readers, "Just avoid the HondaLink infotainment system that comes on EX-L versions. We can't recommend those versions because of reliability problems."
What CR, in its infinite lack of wisdom, fails to realize, is that buyers who choose an Accord EX-L because of all the comfort amenities, such as leather seats with power adjustments, can't just opt out of HondaLink, because it comes standard with the vehicle.
Regardless, you get the picture. And CarPlay may resolve these problems while still having a fatal flaw. It is tethered to your iPhone. If you forget to take your iPhone with you, the snazzy interface goes with it. This is why CarPlay may be an interim solution, though one that is designed to expand the iOS ecosystem.
But it hasn't stopped the fear mongers, in the form of "auto safety experts," from warning about distracted driving for CarPlay users. So having an infotainment system that actually works — or at least works consistently and reliably — will have the potential to impair your ability to pay attention to driving. Liberal use of Siri to keep your fingers off the buttons and the touchscreens and on the steering wheel will certainly help.
And what about systems that are buggy and crash frequently? What about touchscreens that do not consistently react to your fingers? What about voice recognition systems that fail to recognize even simple commands? Don't you think any of them will distract you even more from safe motoring? How could it be otherwise?
It's not that such warnings are necessarily false. Having the world's best infotainment system in your car — and we can debate which system is best — doesn't absolve you from the responsibility to drive carefully. Don't have an argument with your spouse or business partner if you can help it while struggling through a traffic jam. Use the system to free you as much as possible of outside concerns, rather than have it divert your attention.
But what bothers me most about this new spate of warnings is that it came in the wake of Apple's CarPlay introduction. Where were those warnings when Google was touting it's car integration scheme at other auto shows? What about Microsoft's infotainment systems, which not only include MyFord Touch but Kia's UVO feature?
Why is it that Apple's CarPlay may be responsible for the onset of "cognitive distraction," and why aren't similar warnings being made about Apple's competition?
Apple's response would no doubt be the easy and elegant operation of CarPlay. Having something that just works would go a long way to making your trip more enjoyable, and freer of ouside distractions. Besides, it's totally disingenuous to blame Apple for potential problems. Each motorist has the responsibility to focus on safe driving first and foremost, and not on dictating an email, or jumping through playlists or radio stations in search of something to listen to.
If you have a car filled with children, you would certainly want to occupy them so they don't distract you from getting from here to there safely. I know that's a job and a half, but it also explains the popularity of portable gaming systems, and smartphones and tablets with games. Keep them happy and otherwise occupied, and you can deal with the annoyances of the road ahead in a more secure fashion. You can't use CarPlay as a scapegoat, but I'm sure some will take those fear-mongering articles and use them as ammunition to file a class action lawsuit against Apple in the event of a serious fender bender.
But if they're looking for possible candidates for such legal filings, no doubt there are other car infotainment systems far more deserving of such responses.
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