There's plenty of back and forth about whether Apple's recently announced CarPlay, which will arrive in some vehicles later this year, will combat distracted driving or just make it worse. But there's one implication of CarPlay that actually gives me some hope about the disappointing state of car electronics: Apple's track record as a software developer.
Ever had the software in your car's radio/navigation/media console updated? It's not easy and it's not fast. When I got my latest car a couple of years ago, the radio had a bug where the right channel of stereo sound was played over both speakers when streaming Bluetooth audio. Not only did it take six months for a fix to get released, but updating the software meant a trip to the dealer and a two-hour wait while, I can only assume, they uploaded the software bit by bit over a reel-to-reel tape.
Most people probably don't ever think about the software in their car. And with good reason, too, since most automakers aren't exactly consumed with a passion for developing software. Even in the cases where car companies do want to pimp the software features, the spotlight's always going to be on the newest model — they don't have too much interest in continuing to update the software on older models, especially when it comes to adding new features.
Sound familiar? Because to me it's reminiscent of the state of the cell phone market prior to about, oh, 2007.
But software is where Apple lives. The company does have a vested interest in keeping its software updated, and it has a proven history of continuing to support older devices.
That's why CarPlay appeals to me: because it suggests that even as your car gets older, you won't be stuck with an outdated chunk of electronics taking up a huge swath of your car's dashboard.
Even my two-year-old car is starting to show signs of obsolescence. For one thing, it came with a 30-pin dock connector for connecting my iPod or iPhone. For another, its touchscreen seems like something from last century. It has scrollbars. Scrollbars. We've all been interacting with touchscreens every day for the last five years — you'd think my car could have a system that doesn't look like the automated ticket machine at the movie theater.
Look, if our car's interfaces are going to be primarily driven by touchscreens — and, let's face it, these days it's a cheaper and easier route for most automakers — then I'd rather that interface be in the hands of Apple, a company that has shown it actually thinks about how people interact with a touchscreen, than a manufacturer who's more concerned with how to fit in another cup-holder.
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