Opinion: GM Shouldn’t Kill Apple CarPlay, Android Auto


opinion gm shouldnt kill apple carplay android auto

General Motors announced its intention to drop Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on its upcoming EVs earlier this year. Now we have a new piece out in Motor Trend in which the company explains in so many words that the decision is all about driver safety.

Remember that scene in Animal House where the frat was put before a kangaroo court and the brothers in the gallery coughed a certain swear word to indicate their (correct) opinion that the trial was a farce? Yeah, I have similar feelings here.

Tim Babbitt, GM’s head of product for infotainment, said the following to MT:

“CarPlay and Android Auto have stability issues that manifest themselves as bad connections, poor rendering, slow responses, and dropped connections. And when CarPlay and Android Auto have issues, drivers pick up their phones again, taking their eyes off the road and totally defeating the purpose of these phone-mirroring programs. Solving those issues can sometimes be beyond the control of the automaker. You can start to see GM’s frustration. Babbitt’s thesis is that if drivers were to do everything through the vehicle’s built-in systems, they’d be less likely to pick up their phones and therefore less distracted and safer behind the wheel. He admits, though, GM hasn’t tested this thesis in the lab or real world yet but believes it has potential, if customers go for it.”

Right after that passage, MT mentions that GM’s planned Ultifi infotainment will integrate apps like Google Maps and Spotify. Apps that are currently available in CarPlay and Android Auto.

Hmm so why would GM drop CarPlay and Android Auto – features that are either currently standard on base models or available as standard on volume trim levels on many of the company’s vehicles – when it could now offer some of the apps that make CarPlay and Auto appealing to drivers as part of its own infotainment systems?

Say this in the voice of Chris Farley from “Tommy Boy”: “That’s a mystery.”

Obviously I am being sarcastic – it’s no mystery. The answer is money, not safety. And, perhaps, data harvesting, as well.

By making CarPlay and Android Auto unavailable, it’s one less manufacturing cost. It also prevents drivers from opting for a car that doesn’t have factory nav but does have CarPlay capability – thus forcing buyers to pony up more if they want factory navigation and other infotainment features. In theory, this will also allow GM to access owners’ data, instead of allowing that data to flow through CarPlay towards Apple.

Did we mention that GM’s new system will offer subscriptions to premium services?

Yeah, but it’s about safety. And I am both Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

Babbitt and GM have apparently not tested his reasoning/logic in the real world. It also doesn’t make sense. In my experience, CarPlay has been generally reliable – it was buggy at times early on (especially, in my experience, in GM vehicles) but that’s mostly been fixed. The whole point of CarPlay is to reduce driver distraction – and when it works, it does just that. As well as any in-house infotainment system, if not better.

And when it does have connection issues, common sense would suggest that instead of picking up your phone, you could either wait until you get a chance to fix the system or simply use the automaker’s in-house Bluetooth connections, at least for voice calls. I grant you that if CarPlay goes down, you might not be able to do voice-controlled text messaging or access navigation – it depends on the car – but there are alternatives to staring at your phone and crashing because of your lack of attention.

There is an argument to be made that using any infotainment system, in-house or smartphone-mirrored, is distracting. As someone who has tested cars for 15 years, I can tell you this – in-house infotainment systems are about the same, and in some cases slightly worse, in terms of being distracting than Apple CarPlay.

I admit I generally like CarPlay – it’s easy to use and I love that it offers me three different map apps (even if two of those apps have the same corporate owner). Google Maps, Waze, Apple Maps – it’s nice to have the choice instead of using in-house navigation, which can vary greatly in quality from OEM to OEM.

I also like having it read me my text messages and that I can use my voice to reply if necessary. And it’s nice to seamlessly integrate the music on my phone or from a streaming service like Pandora into the car’s audio.

That said, CarPlay isn’t perfect. I’ve experienced fewer bugs recently than in past years, but occasionally the system is still buggy. I still hate how, when parked, scrolling Twitter (or Facebook) on my phone can take over the audio system – this drives me nuts when I decide to while away time in a drive-thru line by seeing what misinformation is spreading on Elon’s favorite platform today. Depending on the vehicle, it can be a bit too much of a pain to jump out of CarPlay to get to terrestrial or satellite radio.

And I might be willing to ditch CarPlay if an OEM offered an in-house infotainment system that did what CarPlay does just as well. The Apple design looks cool, but I don’t need it. I use CarPlay for only a few things – navigation, voice calls, having text messages read to me, and playing my music from my phone or a streamer. A system that did that, and perhaps offered a few other apps for audio enjoyment – a podcasting app, audio books, apps for live broadcasts of sporting events, maybe the XM app – would be fine.

A few automakers are getting closer with infotainment systems – the latest Uconnect and Ford Sync systems come close to being as good as CarPlay, though the menu setups are still not as well integrated into one home screen.

My point is – CarPlay is great, but I’d be fine without it if the OEMs had a system that was as good or better.

But no one does just yet. So we’re stuck with GM crying cynically about safety when the truth is GM (nor anyone else) has yet built a better system. And when GM is realizing that it can save money, if not make more money, by crowding out CarPlay and Android Auto.

I get that GM can do what it wants to make money – though I generally dislike unfair business practices, even if they’re legal – but I also hate cynical lies. Maybe if GM had real-world data suggesting that CarPlay issues led to unsafe driver behavior, the conversation would be different.

Instead, the automaker is pretending a money move is about safety. Just be honest, GM! Just say, using corpo-speak, something like “we believe our new system will bring us monetization opportunities while also performing well enough to meet and exceed our customers’ needs.”

I’ve always known CarPlay might be a temporary tech. I’ve always known it and Android Auto could disappear if OEMs developed in-house systems that were better. Or perhaps some major technological change could cause these systems to disappear.

What I didn’t see coming, despite my own cynicism about corporate honesty in this industry, was that an automaker would be so brazen to suggest a clear money grab would be about safety – and not even pretend to have data to back it up.

If GM wants to develop an Apple CarPlay/Android Auto beater and use it to appeal to car shoppers, go for it. Innovation bred from competition is generally good. But lying about motivations when taking away a popular feature, and replacing it with something that may or may not be better in a clear attempt to maximize the money pulled from owners’ pockets while also wrestling control of data back from a third party is just a terrible look.

Be better, GM.

[Image: Chevrolet/GM]

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