Whenever I rent a car, I have a straightforward request. Please support Apple CarPlay. It is single handily the most important thing for me in the next car I purchase or rent. That makes GM’s news to discontinue support for CarPlay and Android Auto on its future electric vehicles seem so crazy. I’m not the only person that really hates GM’s plan.
What’s tricky is the unenviable position GM, and most car manufacturers have found themselves. The computer that powers a car is increasingly more than an infotainment system. It has become the brain that powers many features, from adaptive cruise control to automatic parking. GMs move is to create an integrated system that couples map with extending a vehicle’s battery or warming it before charging. The car computer is the thing that will lead us to autonomous driving and put a pretty facade on it.
The problem war car companies face is not about vehicles but owning the relationship between us and all computing devices. The walled gardens around many of us keep getting taller and harder to separate. Today I move seamlessly from iPhone to iPad to Mac, and some of my data flows with me as I move from one to the other. What car manufacturers seem to forget is that the war is not for some of our attention but all of it. My phone is a device that has become my wallet, driver’s license, controls my house, opens my office door, knows my meetings, connects me with friends and family, and so much more. I no longer listen to FM, AM, or XM radio – I listen to Spotify, Apple Music, or podcasts. For many of us, our phone offers a ubiquitous ness that has transformed it into the closest thing we have ever had to a trustworthy digital assistant.
The next leap for cars is to build on that relationship. It’s a future where the car is nice and warm and ready for the morning commute. It is one where it effortlessly picks up on the morning news, podcast, or music and transitions it to the drive. Or one where the car and house share information to keep the temperature the same. This future requires deep knowledge of its user, and at present, Apple, Google, and Samsung are the exclusive holders of this data.
For GM, this is a hard place to live. Giving up the center console long-term places it on a path to be a commodity where the guts of the vehicle no longer come from the manufacturer. Worse, if Apple and Google directly compete and build a car – a place Google’s sister company Waymo already partially contends – it will be difficult, if not impossible, for them to differentiate.
The EV transformation masks many massive undercurrents facing the car industry. What is clear is this market will be very different in a decade. I bet the winners will have some version of Apple and Google’s platforms on the dashboard.