To be fair, there are indications that Apple is limiting some aspects of Siri functionality when an iPhone is paired with an in-car Bluetooth interface. But, in my experience, the company has done nothing to limit Siri’s verbosity while driving, nor have they addressed the system’s penchant for inconsistent responses, as highlighted in the AAA study. I think it’s crucial that Apple prioritize these sorts of contextual enhancements to Siri alongside the company’s ongoing work to improve recognition accuracy.
One other Siri-related feature I’d be lobbying for if I had the keys to Apple’s in-car efforts would be the introduction of an API for third-party developers. This is by no means a new idea—the Apple developer community has been pining for a Siri API since the platform was introduced back in 2011. Sadly, anyone who’s been holding their breath has either passed out by now or completely given up hope, but this needs to happen for Siri to be accepted as a go-to in-car companion. Even a limited API reserved for certain classes of apps, such as audio and messaging, would be a huge step forward because it would enable drivers to use their favorite apps (as opposed to a tiny assortment of apps hand-picked by Apple) while keeping their eyes on the road—something that isn’t possible today with an iPhone.
Addressing these two Siri shortcomings is where I’d apply most of my energies as Apple’s in-car czar, because I believe fixing them would deliver the biggest real world safety gains. Now, I say “most” of my energies because, as noted at the start of this section, my efforts would be focused on two fronts: safety and convenience. And, when it comes to convenience, I’d go all in on improved Bluetooth performance (please, hold your applause … no, really, you’re all too kind).
It’s no secret that Bluetooth has been a bugbear for Apple since Bluetooth has been a thing (if you’ve been under a rock for the past few years, just Google “Apple Bluetooth problem” to get up to speed). And to those who say that the fault lies with the automakers, that fails to explain the explosion in Bluetooth issues that always seems to coincide with major releases of iOS and Mac OS X. The bottom line is that the implementation of Bluetooth on Apple devices today is far from great, and improving it is essential to answering the question of an improved in-car iPhone experience.
There are many other features Apple could implement to enhance the experience of using an iPhone while driving, such as rich integration with the upcoming Apple Watch and its “Taptic Engine.” But I believe the work areas outlined above must take precedence if the company is serious about delivering a “smarter, safer and more fun way to use iPhone in the car,” which is how CarPlay was described in the press release announcing its launch exactly one year ago.
As it stands today, CarPlay is none of those things. This may explain why, 365 days on from its premiere, exactly one CarPlay-equipped vehicle—the Ferrari FF—is available for purchase (assuming you have roughly $300K to spare). Meanwhile, Toyota, which is the world’s largest automaker and was cited in Apple’s original press release as a CarPlay partner, has done an about-face, telling the New York Times that “it currently had no plans to adopt Android Auto or CarPlay in the United States.” Perhaps engineers at Toyota read the aforementioned AAA study, which found that Toyota’s in-house Entune hands-free system was significantly less distracting than Siri?
This is all conjecture on my part, but these signs suggest that CarPlay is running on fumes before it’s even passed the start line. The one thing that gives me hope for the future of Apple’s in-car efforts is the company’s unusual willingness to kill or fundamentally re-conceptualize products that it deems wanting. One example is the Apple TV, which started life in 2007 as a $299 media center PC with its own 40 or 160 GB hard drive (for those who don’t remember, it looked like a slightly smaller Mac mini), but was then completely re-imagined for 2010 as a $99 streaming media puck. More recently, Apple announced the discontinuation of the company’s long-lived iPhoto and Aperture apps for Mac, with both due to be replaced by an entirely new Photos for Mac OS X app within the next few months.
The “Designed by Apple” manifesto I referenced at the start of this piece includes a line that reads, “There are a thousand ‘no’s’ for every ‘yes,’” and I very much hope Apple has the institutional fortitude to attach one of those “no’s” to CarPlay. I don’t claim that the approach I’ve outlined above is necessarily the answer, but it’s clear that the CarPlay of today is headed in the wrong direction. And Apple needs to get it right because, unlike an Apple TV or Apple Watch, getting it wrong can be a matter of life and death.
Agree? Disagree? Have questions? Let’s continue the conversation on Twitter @edotkim.