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Apple’s “next generation” of CarPlay plans to take over every screen in your car

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Apple detailed significant updates to its CarPlay platform at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) on Monday.

During its keynote presentation, Apple gave what it termed a “sneak peek” of the “next generation” of the CarPlay standard, which allows iPhone users to control and view phone-based apps through their car’s dashboard. The company says the update will see CarPlay more deeply integrate with a car’s hardware, allowing it to display info across multiple screens in a host vehicle at a time when more and more cars are integrating more and more displays.

The idea, it would seem, is to make CarPlay into something closer to a whole-car interface, not just the phone-mirroring infotainment system it is today.

This takeover will allow you to do things like adjust climate controls, activate a seat heater, or tune the radio directly through CarPlay without having to leave Apple’s UI. Apple says the software will take over a car’s instrument cluster, so you can see your current speed, fuel and battery levels, RPMs, navigation details, and other common bits of information in a more unified, highly Apple-esque design.

The revamp will provide a range of themes and layouts to customize the look of a car’s instrument cluster, too. Apart from various background colors and dial treatments, for instance, one option displayed speed, gear, and fuel details on top of a street-level navigation view from Apple Maps. The company showcased iPhone-like widget support for apps like Weather, Apple Music, Calendar, and Home, too, which you can access right from the dashboard. According to the company, all of this can adapt to fit different screen sizes within a given vehicle.

Apple didn’t go too deep into the specifics of how the new functionality works during its keynote, merely saying that a connected iPhone will “communicate with your vehicle’s real-time systems in an on-device, privacy-friendly way.” The company noted that it will share more information on the revamped CarPlay “in the future” and that it will start to announce compatible vehicles in late 2023. A slide during Apple’s keynote, however, did list Ford, Mercedes, Nissan, Porsche, Land Rover, Audi, Acura, Honda, Lincoln, Jaguar, Volvo, Renault, Polestar, and Infiniti as car manufacturers that plan to support this “new vision of CarPlay.”

The new direction for CarPlay comes after Google’s rollout of a native whole-car OS with its Android Automotive platform. It also comes as Apple reportedly continues to develop its own electric autonomous vehicle, which has been rumored to be in the works in some form since 2014 and has dealt with several executive departments in recent years. The new-look CarPlay, however, may be the closest Apple has come to showing the public what the interface of an “Apple Car” could look like, if it ever arrives. As for how well the software will work with other manufacturers’ hardware, the future update will probably raise some questions. How many models will carmakers allow Apple to essentially take over on a software level? A tethered iPhone connection can’t handle real-time gauge cluster and fuel information, so exactly how much of this functionality is running natively on the car? Physical knobs and dials still tend to be more reliable than even very-good touch interfaces, too, although the former are being left behind with newer cars more generally.

All that said, built-in software traditionally hasn’t been carmakers’ strong suit, to put it mildly. Apple seems as good a candidate as any to make a better UI for newer all-screen cars, and the images it displayed on Monday are nothing if not aesthetically appealing — though how well all of this will work as a functional car human-machine interface remains to be seen. Still, if everything falls right, the new CarPlay could make for a more pleasing driving experience for iPhone owners and those who are already onboard with the increasingly screen-heavy trend.

As a refresher, Apple’s WWDC keynote detailed updates for many of Apple’s existing operating systems. The company also introduced a new M2 system-on-a-chip alongside updated MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models. You can catch up with all our coverage of Apple’s announcements here.

Apple’s WWDC 2022 keynote presentation. The CarPlay portion starts at 37:50.

Listing image by Apple

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