Thoughts on the new CarPlay

June 12, 2024

I watched the two CarPlay videos from WWDC24 and have some thoughts.

WWDC24: Say hello to the next generation of CarPlay design system | Apple

Explore the design system at the heart of the next generation of CarPlay that allows each automaker to express your vehicle’s character and brand. Learn how ...

WWDC24: Meet the next generation of CarPlay architecture | Apple

Dive into the architecture for the next generation of CarPlay. Learn how your vehicle system works with iPhone to create a single cohesive experience that sh...

The new CarPlay design system inverts the relationship between carmaker and iPhone, and places the iPhone basically in control of the entire dashboard including the primary instrument cluster behind the steering wheel. Instead of CarPlay receiving a rectangle into which it can render images, the car creates configurations that CarPlay then uses to insert their gauges, camera feeds, and controls. But CarPlay is ultimately in charge of nearly every pixel of the display (with the exception of telltale lights). Even government-regulated displays like speedometer and fuel gauge are configured through iPhone, even though they are rendered by the car.

My first impression is that this is a tough sell. Not only is Apple telling carmakers to yield control of all their display surfaces, Apple is also dictating what gauge designs, fonts, and other UI constraints they must choose from. Any manufacturer branding must fit inside the design guidelines of CarPlay, not the other way around.

Remember that carmakers must create gauges that work without an iPhone connected. That means they must craft and debug two gauge systems: one native to the car, and another that works through CarPlay. Not only that, they must provide additional hardware compositors and local, CarPlay-specific, configurable rendering software that are needed only when an iPhone is connected.

And will Android Auto follow along? Will automakers need to support a third rendering stack? This seems implausible, unless customer demand beyond single-display CarPlay is massive.

If there’s anything I’ve learned about carmakers, it’s that they are a. cheap, and b. bad at software. What do they stand to gain from this, beyond supporting CarPlay only on their center display, like they already do (barely, poorly)?

Aside from a couple of high-end manufacturers that Apple partners with, I don’t see this becoming a common feature on cars. Manufacturers don’t want someone else’s design system taking over, and they certainly don’t want to spend money to get that.

Having said that, I know Apple has done market research on this and concluded that this is a worthwhile feature to launch. I’m curious if I’ll be proven wrong. Maybe there’s something here that I don’t see.

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