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Apple’s CarPlay lets iPhone owners use their car’s interface or a voice-control button on the steering wheel to activate Siri, listen to music and get directions. Volvo, Hyundai, Honda, Jaguar, Ferrari and Mercedes-Benz are on board, and Apple promises future partners like BMW, Subaru, Toyota and even Ford.

Photos provided by Apple Inc.,

One drawback is that smartphones are usually more up-to-date than car navigation systems.

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Apple's new CarPlay is almost a step in the right direction

  • Article by: Molly Wood
  • New York Times
  • March 11, 2014 - 5:25 PM

Apple last week announced Apple CarPlay, a new system for integrating an iPhone into certain cars. This is not the first time Apple has tried its hand at in-car integration, and while I’m not interested in a proprietary car, it’s a good step toward a driving future I am interested in: one where you bring your own phone into your car’s dashboard for mapping, messaging, voice controls and more.

CarPlay is a new set of car-specific controls that use Siri for voice control, add a new iOS-like interface to the car’s touch screen, and even take over the physical controls in the car. Volvo, Hyundai, Honda, Jaguar, Ferrari and Mercedes-Benz are on board, and Apple promises future partners like BMW, Subaru, Toyota and even Ford (which recently intimated it would no longer use Microsoft software exclusively for its in-car Sync services).

The interface relies on Apple’s Lightning connector to integrate a phone with a car, so it is compatible only with iPhone 5, iPhone 5S, iPhone 5C and whatever future Lightning-equipped phones the company will introduce.

That, of course, is assuming it decides to stay with Lightning as its standard. This is an important point, and one reason there is absolutely no way I would buy one of these CarPlay add-ons.

I have been burned by Apple’s proprietary car integration before. I owned a 2004 BMW X3 with an Apple dock connector in the glove box — back then it was meant for iPod compatibility. Quaint, right? But I bought the car in 2006, and wanted to use it with my iPhone 3G. Unfortunately, the built-in cable was not compatible with the iPhone, even though they both used the old 30-pin dock connector, because changes to pin assignments meant it no longer charged newer devices.

The accessory maker Scosche made a tidy sum, in fact, by creating an adapter that turned 30-pin dock connectors into newer 30-pin dock connectors.

The point of this story? Be very wary of buying a car with a hard-wired, proprietary phone integration solution, unless you plan to keep both the car and the phone for a very long time. I don’t know if you have noticed, but Apple does not really encourage you to hang onto phones for very long.

However, there is a growing trend toward using your own device in your in-car dash, and of this, I approve, as long as it is platform-agnostic, wireless and easy. It won’t get as much credit as Apple, but Chevrolet actually pioneered this option in a very clever way with the Chevy Spark.

The Spark ships without a CD player, in-dash mapping or OnStar. Instead, its built-in Chevrolet MyLink service lets you pair your phone with the car using Bluetooth, then puts phone commands and app control on the car’s 7-inch touch screen.

Sound kind of like CarPlay? Why yes, yes it does. The integration is not as complete. You cannot use the maps that are on the phone on the touch screen, for example, but an app called BringGo downloads Chevy’s mapping to the phone, then integrates with the car and screen via MyLink.

This is the type, if not the breadth, of integration I’m interested in, and it’s available with any phone that uses Bluetooth. We all know that our phone capabilities have leapfrogged the tech in our cars by orders of magnitude, so it makes sense to use the devices at the center of our lives in the car as well.

I think I’m not alone in using my phone’s far superior mapping over my expensive in-car navigation system. The phone maps are updated more often and tend to include more real-time traffic information. My car, for example, does not know yet that there is a new span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. When I drive over it, the in-dash map shows me in the middle of the water.

My phone is also connected to the Web, so if I say, “Navigate to Whole Foods,” to either my LG G2 or iPhone, it knows what I am talking about. My car uses voice integration, but it has much more rigidly defined controls, and it is generally less accurate. And in getting people to stop texting in the car, one powerful weapon is allowing them to use their voices to say they are driving and will call back later.

Automakers can save a lot of time and headache by figuring out how to let us bring our phones into our cars in powerful, seamless ways, and I am looking forward to more of this trend. But I hope the car folks work choice into the equation, because I have already bought my first and last “Apple car.”

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