If a new car integration feature debuts for mobile devices and there are no cars around to use it yet, does it really count? That’s the question iPhone and iPad users are left asking after Apple released iOS 7.1 as a free update this week, finally adding the long touted feature iOS In The Car – now renamed CarPlay – allowing for seamless integration with compatible automobiles. The system allows the core interface and apps from an iPhone or iPad to be displayed on the instrument panel screen of a vehicle, allowing users to access functionality like Music and Maps and Siri in a hands free manner while driving. The catch: you’ve got to have a car that works with CarPlay.
Several vehicle manufacturers including Mercedes, Honda, and Hyundai have publicly stated that their 2014 model vehicles will come equipped to support CarPlay, while a dozen or more others like BMW have stated that they’ll add support at some point down the road. But thus far only Mercedes has committed to offering a retrofit kit to make its existing models compatible. So those iPhone and iPad users who want the CarPlay integration will for the most part need to wait until new cars hit the market en masse with the technology built in, and then buy one. Until that time, CarPlay is simply a bullet point on a list of iOS 7.1 features which remains valid only on paper for now.
But Apple has tended to play the long game when it comes to integrating new technologies, in this case locking up long term full integration from most major car manufacturers going forward instead of focusing on retrofitting current vehicles in a manner which make for a more clumsy user experience. With its competitors struggling to offer anything comparable to CarPlay for now, Apple is hoping that the long term promise of the technology is enough to steer people toward iPhone and iPad purchases.