CarPlay Has Taken the Automotive Industry by Storm

Now they’re wondering what Apple is going to do next.
2021 Nissan Rogue CarPlay screen Credit: Jesse Hollington
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Anybody who has had the benefit of trying out Apple’s CarPlay has to agree that it’s a much more pleasant user experience than the infotainment systems that most carmakers bake into their vehicles. That’s probably not a big surprise considering how much emphasis Apple puts on the polish of its UI, but now a new report goes to show how insanely popular the feature has become among both automakers and their customers.

First introduced back in 2013, CarPlay was originally limited to only a few vehicles, from an even smaller number of manufacturers. In the seven years since, however, it’s expanded to be a core feature on over 80 percent of new cars sold in the United States, according to a new report from CNBC, and it has the automotive industry wondering what Apple is going to do next.

These numbers are even more impressive when you consider that CarPlay doesn’t directly generate any revenue at all for Apple — while BMW toyed with the idea of charging a subscription for it a few years ago, that was on them and had nothing at all to do with Apple.

Around the world, over 80% of new cars sold support CarPlay, Apple said last year. That works out to about 600 new models, including cars from Volkswagen, BMW, and Chrysler. Toyota, one of the longest holdouts, started including CarPlay in 2019 models.

CNBC

Despite being a free feature and service, Apple’s motivation for CarPlay is fairly clear: embrace and extend the iPhone experience to get it onto as many screens as possible, enhancing customer’s lives and making them enjoy the experience of owning an iPhone even more.

It’s a strategy that’s clearly worked, as CNBC notes that it’s taken the auto industry by storm, to the point that even three years ago, 23% of new car buyers in the U.S. considered CarPlay a “must have’ feature when buying a new car — a number that has likely only gone up as Apple continues to add more features to CarPlay.

For instance, back in 2017, when Strategy Analytics conducted the study cited by CNBC, CarPlay was limited to using Apple Maps for navigation, third-party music apps were extremely limited and buggy, and you couldn’t even rearrange the icons on the CarPlay home screen (shades of the original iPhone). Since then, CarPlay has embraced Google Maps, other messaging services, and vastly expanded Siri support.

Further, while 23 percent of new car buyers considered CarPlay a requirement, over half — 56 percent — considered it something they would at least consider when buying a new vehicle, although the lack of it wouldn’t necessarily be a dealbreaker.

Moreover, when Strategy Analytics conducted a 2018 survey among users who had CarPlay-equipped vehicles, it found that 34 percent of users use CarPlay exclusively, while 33 percent said they “mostly” use CarPlay. Only a mere four percent stated that they preferred the embedded infotainment systems over CarPlay.

While Apple introduced Wireless CarPlay in 2015, it’s lagged behind the far more ubiquitous wired version, since it requires the vehicle to support Wi-Fi connectivity. While it began almost exclusively on BMW vehicles, last year we saw an explosion of Wireless CarPlay support across 14 new brands and almost 40 different 2021 car models, including those from Buick, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Ford, GMC, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Volkswagen, and my personal favourite, Nissan’s 2021 Rogue.

Apple doesn’t charge any licensing fees to automakers for CarPlay, so it’s not even a licensing business. CNBC adds that Citi Analyst Jim Suva has estimated Apple could make an extra $6.5 billion by 2025 if it did charge licensing fees for CarPlay, but clearly Apple has decided it’s more worthwhile to use the technology to make its iPhone hardware and services like Apple Music more appealing to customers. Suva estimates that Apple could be making an extra $2 billion in services revenue just by having Apple Music more readily available on people’s dashboards.

‘A Pathway into the Auto Industry’

What’s perhaps even more significant, however, is that the rapid adoption of CarPlay has made the automotive industry sit up and take notice of Apple as a serious contender. After all, since Apple has been so successful in taking over the dashboard, there’s no reason to believe it can’t apply that to building an entire vehicle.

While all the rumours point to Apple building a complete self-driving electric vehicle, the best estimates suggest it’s still years away from a final product, so Apple’s plans could definitely change, especially if it runs into roadblocks that preclude it from accomplishing its ultimate vision for its own vehicle.

Automotive executives have also said that they’re not losing any sleep over the possibility of Apple entering the industry, but at the same time none of them want to get into bed with Apple fearing the multi-trillion-dollar company could eclipse their brands.

Ultimately, though, Apple CarPlay could turn out to be the “thin edge of the wedge” — a service that familiarizes many of its customers with the Apple way of doing things, especially as it continues to expand CarPlay to support more types of third-party apps, whetting all of our appetites for what an Apple Car user interface may someday look like.

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