Is the Justice Department wrong about CarPlay?

In its antitrust lawsuit, the U.S. Department of Justice claims that the next generation of Apple’s CarPlay will force an “iPhone-centric experience” on drivers who use features in the phone-mirroring software.

There’s more to the story.

The CarPlay allegations are tucked into the agency’s complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey in March.

The filing claims that Apple enforces its dominance by forcing one unified display experience across every available interface in the vehicle through CarPlay, among other allegedly anticompetitive practices involving smart watches and mobile apps.

The next generation of CarPlay can present visuals across instrument cluster displays, including an option to toggle map views across interfaces. But while CarPlay is a lot of things, it is likely not forcing automakers to adopt the full integration across all available interfaces if they object, said Alex Oyler, director of SBD Automotive North America.


“I find it very, very hard to believe that Apple would make those firm requirements,” he said. “There would be significant industry pushback against that approach.”

The Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to questions about CarPlay in its complaint.

CarPlay has served as a lightning rod.

The wildly popular software is a stubborn obstacle as automakers fight to wrest back control of the infotainment center and all its potential, including anticipated profits via subscription services purchased through the cockpit and precious user data that will drive R&D and vehicle personalization. In reality, subscription sales as an industry panacea are yet unproven, as demonstrated by snafus like BMW’s flirtation with a heated seats subscription that led to consumer revolt.

Some manufacturers see CarPlay as a necessary evil because consumers love it. Apple has said that 98 percent of new vehicles in the U.S. support CarPlay. That indicates a conscious decision by automakers looking to meet consumer expectations.

On a technical level, companies can control where CarPlay is “presented as a part of the broader experience,” Oyler said.

There is a native infotainment user experience that is running on the central infotainment screen and other displays. CarPlay is laid over the automaker software, and is not replacing it.

CarPlay also functions on native infotainment systems built with the Android Automotive open-source software development kit. That’s made by Google, a competitor, said Phil Koopman, an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers senior member and a professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

Aston Martin said that the next generation of CarPlay, including displays across multiple interfaces, will be compatible with systems this year in its DB12 coupe and DB12 convertible. Porsche is also featuring the new CarPlay in upcoming models, though it’s not clear when and which ones.

Last year, General Motors announced its plan to ditch CarPlay compatibility in new electric vehicles, joining automakers like Tesla and Rivian that are trying to own the customer experience in the car. That experience is only getting more important.

“If every car has the exact same digital UX through CarPlay, it removes one area where automakers can try to differentiate themselves,” said Oyler. “They have to compete on other terms, and that’s just unacceptable because especially with electrification, there’s actually less differentiation to be had outside of the digital UX.”


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