At the 2014 Geneva International Motor Show, Apple announced CarPlay, which, according to Apple, gives “drivers a smarter, safer & more fun way to use iPhone in the car.” Bottom line, it allows you to access and control your iPhone by using the car’s in-dash display. Applications can be controlled by using the touchscreen interface or voice commands through Siri. The initial apps are limited to the phone, messaging, music, maps and a few select third party apps. At launch, these select third party apps appear to be limited to music ones such as Spotify. In the (near) future, I suspect that application development will be made available to a much wider audience.

Here is a short video overview that Volvo produced showing how CarPlay works.



Use cases for CarPlay

CarPlay brings the app experience to the car, a place where we spend a lot of our time. In addition to giving us access to our contacts and music for making calls, messaging and entertainment, it has the potential to change how business interact with consumers. How? By putting iOS into cars, developers will eventually be able to design apps that run using your in-car display.

Looking at the use cases for an industry I am familiar with, real estate, shows just how this could impact the customer’s user experience.

  • Property mapping
    If I am in my car searching for properties, I can use my in-car display to show a map of properties for sale and open houses. Tapping the display can bring up property details, launch the in-car navigation for directions, or display a video tour or audio description of the property.
  • Property alerts
    I could set the parameters of the property I am looking for, such as price, beds, baths, square footage, etc., and when I am near a property that fits my criteria, the app could alert me through the in-car dash via a pop-up or audio message.
  • Geofencing
    When I am in front of a property for sale, the app could detect my location in proximity to the property and immediately display property details without any user input. The app could detect whether I am in motion and provide the appropriate menu based on that data. For example, if I am stopped, it would offer a video tour. If am in motion, it would offer an audio tour.
  • Property tours, or showing lists
    Before leaving the house, I could program a showing list into the app for display on the in-car dash. The app could figure the optimal route based on distance, time, or open house availability. Then the in-car navigation could take over to direct me to each property on my list.
  • Property inquiries
    While using the app, I could easily contact my real estate agent, or the listing agent for a property, through contact points in the app. They could be activated via the touch display or voice, and would use the native phone or messaging apps built into CarPlay.

These use cases are just scratching the surface for real estate. I could also do a similar exercise for retail, restaurants, hotels and more.

About the only drawback I see for CarPlay is that it is iOS specific. I would prefer an open source connection inside the car that any smartphone could connect to, whether it’s an iPhone, Android or Windows Phone device. The connection could be made via USB, Bluetooth, NFC, or even a low-powered Wi-fi signal. My point is that I don’t want my car choice to be driven by my phone or vice-versa.

Is CarPlay an end or a beginning?

CarPlay is another piece in the bigger puzzle that I like to call truly wireless computing. In this evolving computing environment, our smartphones will be the central element that connects to the many screens that will be available around us, whether it is in our car, in our house, on our desk, in a store, or at the local coffee shop. Basically, anywhere a screen exists, our phone (or tablet) will be able to connect to it.

The ramifications of this shift are huge. It will require that the user experience for all industries, not just real estate, be rethought from the ground up. Businesses will need to decide if they want to invest the time and money to control the end-to-end consumer experience or if they are willing to let third parties define and drive the user experience for their industry. If you thought things were changing rapidly in mobile before, fasten your seat belt. We’re about ready to shift into another gear.

Context is king

With so many use cases and screens that need to be supported, how will we choose what to give the user? It will be driven by context, which will be the application’s ability to determine what the user is doing and to provide the best experience for that situation. If the user is at home using their smartphone to control their 65-inch television, the experience they are presented needs to be different than the one they are presented when they are driving in the car looking at a 10-inch or smaller display. What they are presented when connected to a table/surface screen at Starbucks will be different than what they are presented when they are looking at their smartphone while walking around town.

At the end of the day, Apple’s CarPlay announcement is just the next step in the evolution of mobile technology. It’s an evolution that will continue to place an ever increasing premium on the use of context to deliver the best possible user experience to the consumer.