CarPlay’s Road Ahead

At WWDC 2022, Apple previewed a new version of CarPlay. It promised deeper integration, taking over for things like ventilation controls, seat position, and dashboard dials. Such an update will basically require expansive screen space, and it will also permit CarPlay to span multiple screens.

A list of supported models is not expected until much later this year, but it appears we are beginning to see glimpses already in a raft of automaker announcements. Some manufacturers — mostly luxurious brands like Porsche — were already toying with all-screen dashboards. That style is becoming increasingly standard and moving downrange. New models from BMW, Chevrolet, Ford, Hyundai, and Lincoln each have a big, long screen stretching from at least the driver’s side across the centre console with digital dials replacing analogue gauges. While none of the mockups show the new version of CarPlay, this layout seems to be designed with it in mind. The mockup Lincoln showed was so similar to CarPlay that, when iMore asked about it, a spokesperson acknowledged it was “uncanny”.

To be clear, none of these mockups seem to show CarPlay, but they do show a new all-digital interface projected across the entire dashboard — exactly how CarPlay will be presented. Stay tuned for the inevitable acknowledgements by Apple and automakers later this year.

Whether people will like these changes is a different matter altogether. A recent JD Power survey indicates people are increasingly dissatisfied with manufacturer-created digital controls, and prefer integration with their phone, which suggests further development might be well-received. But people also prefer physical controls for common functions like turning on seat heaters or adjusting the air conditioning. Volkswagen is dropping the touch controls it added to its steering wheel in favour of real buttons, for example, while Hyundai says it will keep using buttons even as huge screens sweep across the dashboard of its newest models — see above, for example. Porsche may have been an early adopter of an all-screen dashboard with its Taycan, but the new Cayenne manages to retain tactile controls while also embracing digital ones.1

And I still have not acknowledged the potential for increased screens to become more dangerous. We already know that offloading common controls to screen-based interfaces is more distracting. Some of Apple’s mockups show a series of widgets spread across the dashboard with information about the weather, calendar appointments, smart home devices, music, and world clocks. All this while the vehicle is apparently travelling at around 44 miles per hour (70 kilometres per hour) approaching a crosswalk on a street which is signposted for 30 (50). Yes, I know it is a mockup, but it feels realistic: people really do check their calendar while speeding through intersections. Distractions like these are dangerous to everyone on or near a roadway, including cyclists and pedestrians. In the United States, pedestrian fatalities soared, reaching levels not seen in forty years.

But the story seems more complex than the one these U.S. statistics appear to tell. The Canadian auto market mimics the U.S. one, with a similar proportion of different body styles sold, and distracted driving being responsible for fatal collisions at a similar rate. Even so, fatal collisions in Canada have been declining for the same period where they have been rising south of the border. Crucially, this has been true for the 2019–2021 timeframe for pedestrians as a share of fatalities after rising in 2018, and pedestrian injuries have also been on a declining trend. It is not true for cyclists; however, there is no clear pattern either way.

I am most frequently in those latter two categories of road user: I am usually a pedestrian, and often a cyclist. Despite the wide availability of smartphone integration for many years, I still see people in newer cars holding and looking at their phones while driving erratically. Windscreen mounts remain popular, often immediately in front of the driver.

After digging into what is to come in newer cars and recent statistics, I am left with concern and confusion. It seems that something is different in the United States compared to Canada, though the NHTSA recently announced a turnaround for the first part of 2023. But screen-based controls create increased risk, and I find it hard to believe that will be mitigated by bigger screens and more distractions. I worry that drivers five years from now will be sitting in a massive boxy SUV with a dashboard full of touch-activated widgets, and they will still be staring at the phone in their hand.

After years of different answers for ways to avoid touching phones while behind the wheel — CarPlay and its Android counterpart, voice controls, Bluetooth — it seems that is something some drivers will never be able to give up.

  1. In fact, it looks to me like some functionality is duplicated: there appears to be a seat heater icon in both the centre console and onscreen, suggesting the tactile switches could be stateless. ↥︎