Apple vs Android: the new automotive rivalry
Apple vs Android: the new automotive rivalry
The next key automotive battleground looms not in the way a car drives, but in the way it connects us.
Connectivity in cars is an automotive minefield that straddles what consumers want from their car and, what some experts believe, they shouldn’t have.
For most people, checking your email or texting while behind the wheel essentially means taking your eyes off the road, creating a deadly hazard for all surrounding motorists.
According to global data released earlier this year, using a mobile phone while driving is a contributing factor in one in every four motor vehicle accidents.
And yet, separate research undertaken in Australia has found that the prevalence of mobile phone use in cars is still shockingly high.
People know they shouldn’t use their phones while driving. Most can’t resist. A 2011 government survey found that 93 per cent of Australian drivers owned a mobile phone and, of these drivers, 59 per cent reported using their mobile phone at the wheel, with 31 per cent of drivers reading, and 14 per cent sending text messages while driving.
But, as with nearly every other facet of the modern car, change is in the wings. Car makers are increasingly embracing the internet age and incorporating new technology which better facilitates our online lives.
Higher end car makers such as Audi and BMW already offer email dictation and web searches.
But Apple and Google, perhaps not surprisingly, are at the forefront of even more change. Their respective CarPlay and Android Auto software loom as the next big step in connectivity in cars, using a vehicle’s in-built
touchscreen, steering wheel mounted controls or other existing switchgear to perform tasks from our phones. In short, the technology purportedly allows us to perform more tasks from our cars, but more safely.
The assumption is that car buyers will pick their choice of software – CarPlay or Android Auto – depending on whether they’re an Apple aficionado or an Android loyalist.
Smaller, more selective software is also in the pipeline, including a Bluetooth app that will read text messages and status updates to you and, somewhat more interestingly, let you speak a custom message that will be transcribed to your recipient.
However local safety experts aren’t convinced, adamant that this so-called tech revolution will simply add to the number of accidents caused by distraction.
Professor Mark Stevenson, the director of the Monash University Accident Research Centre, believes the only effective way to ensure safe use of mobile phones at the wheel is to intervene with blockage devices.
“We know there are crash estimates as high as 32 per cent related to driver distraction, and a significant part of that is distraction caused by mobile phones,” Prof Stevenson said.
“I’m quite surprised to see this new technology coming through. It looks as though it will make the driving experience much more complicated for a driver, and that’s a significant concern.”
Car makers, meanwhile, can’t get hold of said technology fast enough. Among other reasons, embracing it is seen as a sure way for them to entice young people to fall in love with the car again: combining their love of the digital age and connectivity with the more traditional and oft-romanticised idea of freedom – owning a set of wheels.
In a recent interview with Fairfax Media, Mazda’s global president Masamichi Kogai pointed to new technology as one of the key area for auto makers to entice young people back into the fold.
“One of my beliefs is that unless you can develop and build products that young people really want, you’re never going to succeed,” Kogai said through an interpreter.
There are other tangible benefits of connecting cars to the internet. The practice would potentially allow vehicles to send and receives information for remote diagnostics for technicians, or allow insurance companies to use telematics to measure individual driver behaviour – applying that information to set insurance premiums.
According to research from Ernst & Young, some 88 per cent of new cars will be fitted with telematics by 2025.
In many ways, the transformation is already underway with the integration of Bluetooth phone and audio streaming in nearly all new vehicles.
However, tech firms want to make the practice safer again. Or, at least that’s the major selling point from Apple and Google.
Apple’s CarPlay is largely seen as the poster child of the car connectivity revolution.
Unveiled in March this year, CarPlay enables drivers to make calls and listen to or dictate messages using Siri, as well as listening to music and watching movies.
The software is an extension of Holden’s MyLink or Ford’s Sync systems that already tap into Apple’s handsfree devices, facilitating the use of music or radio apps such as Pandora.
Like all Apple software, CarPlay isn’t compatible with rival devices from the likes of Samsung and HTC. CarPlay is configured on screen in much the same way as a regular iPhone or iPad, using the familiar iOS interface.
“CarPlay has been designed from the ground up to provide drivers with an incredible experience using their iPhone in the car,” Apple’s vice president of iPhone and iOS product marketing, Greg Joswiak, said at the time of launch.
“iPhone users always want their content at their fingertips and CarPlay lets drivers use their iPhone in the car with minimised distraction.”
Apple has already reached formal agreements with Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, Honda and Volvo to begin rolling out CarPlay in new vehicles globally from later this year. In addition, myriad other car manufacturers have signed up for the technology, meaning it will only be a matter of time before their respective collaborations come to fruition.
Fairfax Media understands the CarPlay function won’t likely make it to Australia until next year.
Mercedes-Benz in Australia is slated as one of the first big car makers to introduce the technology, however the local arm is yet to receive a definitive date on the roll out.
“We don’t have any sort of date of when it’s happening globally or locally,” a spokesman said.
Earlier this year, Mercedes-Benz marketing and sales boss Ola Kallenius said the technology would change the way we interacted from our cars.
“Younger customers organise their lives in different ways – they’re always on,” he said. “Our goal is to offer a seamless and convenient experience when it comes to using smart phones and tablets or online services in our cars … which CarPlay provides.”
There are three key platforms for CarPlay: voice control, your car’s in-built touchscreen (if applicable) and your car’s existing buttons or switchgear.
In terms of texting, Apple’s Siri software will be able to read text messages to you and allow you to dictate reply messages without looking down at your phone. Using Apple maps or listening to music can be facilitated in the same way.
However, Prof Stevenson has reservations about the technology. Instead, he is an eager proponent of phone blockage devices in cars. Such technology is already rolled out in the United States to stop drivers from sending or receiving text messages, however it has only had minimal take up among telcos and road users alike.
Prof Stevenson would like to see the same technology enforced in Australia, where it is currently compulsory to hold your phone in a cradle device in most states and territories in order to use it for phone calls.
“This technology – such as using voice commands to do different things on your phone – still isn’t safe,” Prof Stevenson said.
“We already know that handsfree mobile use is equally as dangerous as holding your phone and not using the Bluetooth in your car. The cognitive process of holding a conversation is the big problem here, that’s what ultimately distracts you from driving the car.”
Much of Prof Stevenson’s concern stems from the fact that there is still confusion around phone use in the car. Whereas drink driving is universally condemned by authorities, and backed up with telling statistics, some phone use such as talking through the Bluetooth system is still permitted, meaning that drivers can still rationalise the need to use their devices for other tasks.
However, Apple argues CarPlay would encourage safer use of the phone while driving, allowing you to utilise your phone’s various apps “while your eyes and hands stay where they belong”.
Google has mounted the biggest challenge to the Apple CarPlay system with the announcement of its Android Auto software in June.
Like Apple, it has a lengthy list of automaker partners, with increasing overlap.
Early reviews suggest the Google system will offer enhanced voice functionality. For example you could ask ‘What is the weather in Canberra’ or ‘What is the address of Parliament House’ and get an immediate response.
From here, you can simply instruct Android Auto to ‘navigate there’ to get turn-by-turn directions via Google Maps, seen as a key trump card for the software.
Social media remains something of a grey area for car manufacturers and tech firms alike. Until now, neither Apple nor Google have properly spelled out their intentions for functions like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
And for good reason, according to the US-based AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. It commissioned a study last year that found hands-free phone conversations while driving quadruple the risk of causing a traffic crash and are no less distracting than holding a phone to your ear.
Using voice-to-text technology to send email is even more dangerous and can cause “inattention blindness,” said Jake Nelson, the organisation’s director of traffic safety and research.
“You see the pedestrian walk right out in front of your car or you see that red light right in front of you but you don’t really comprehend it or react to it.”
Like Prof Stevenson, the foundation urges the auto industry to install locks to prevent drivers from checking with social media networks while the vehicle is moving. Some carmakers, such as Chrysler, have engineered their existing systems with prohibitions.
Hyundai is among the growing number of brands set to offer both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in Australia simultaneously from next year.
Hyundai Australia spokesman Bill Thomas said the technology would revolutionise the driving experience across Australia’s vast distances.
“We’re looking at it, we’re definitely investigating it and will be looking at testing it at some point – it’s definitely something that’s on our radar,” Thomas said.
Thomas said Hyundai Australia and other car makers would likely monitor the rollout of CarPlay and Android Auto abroad closely before testing the waters in Australia.
“I’d imagine both systems will be right to go when it comes time to bring them to Australia, given that they will be rolled out in the US and Europe,” he said.
“As with a lot of new technologies, having them in place overseas certainly helps to get the ball rolling with authorities in Australia.”
Like CarPlay, Android Auto can be facilitated by a car’s touchscreen or switchgear, as well as the human voice. The latter element continues to present problems.
Car companies and tech firms alike are seemingly grappling with how to get the new technology to obey voice commands with the same intuitiveness as smartphones.
In the United States, voice control failures are new car owners’ top complaint, according to J.D. Power & Associates, which just gave a failing grade to companies’ attempts to make vehicles talk – and listen.
Figures show almost one-in-four US motorists use voice recognition in their cars daily and 53 percent tap it at least once a week, up from 47 per cent two years ago.
By 2020, 68 million vehicles worldwide will have voice controls, up 84 percent from 37 million in 2014, according to researcher IHS Automotive.
Vocabularies are also being expanded beyond the latest systems’ 2 million words, which is up from only 500,000 a few years ago, said Arnd Weil, vice president of Nuance Automotive, a provider of voice systems to the likes of Ford, General Motors and Chrysler Group.
The biggest breakthrough may be the adoption of so-called natural speech recognition, common on smartphones and already introduced in some General Motors models and to be introduced to Australia in the upcoming Falcon FG X later this year through Ford’s Sync2 infotainment system.
Rather than struggling through a robotic and tedious exchange to get the message, these systems comprehend conversational language by recognizing key words and acting on them.
“You talk like you would talk to a human,” Weil said.
“You say, ‘Navigate to my office,’ and the system figures it out.”
In a few years, a dashboard will initiate conversations, acting like a sort of personal assistant on wheels, Weil said.
“It can remind you, ‘your telephone conference call is starting in a minute. Shall I dial the number now?’.”