While rumored since earlier in the year, in December of 2023 GM announced it would be stepping away from Apple CarPlay and Android Auto with its electric vehicles and phase these connectivity apps out in ICE vehicles as well. This announcement sparked uproar among fans of the vehicle connectivity systems and raised a lot of questions. Namely why? Why would GM abandon CarPlay and Android Auto? Let’s get into it.
In-vehicle connectivity has been a standard in cars for nearly a decade. Apple introduced Car Play in March of 2014, while Android Auto released with Hyundai’s in May of 2015. Both of these systems were created to connect your phone seamlessly to the vehicle’s infotainment system. At the time, this development was hailed as a step toward a smarter and potentially safer vehicle: greater convenience, fewer distractions. What your phone had access to, your vehicle could display. With bigger screens, maps would be easier to follow, buttons a little less tricky to figure out. So what has changed over the last nine or so years?
Why is GM saying goodbye to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity? According to GM’s Head of Product for Infotainment, it all comes down to safety. We regularly share information on driver safety. The latest data always has something to say about the impact distraction has on driver safety. People on their phones when behind the wheel put everyone around them in jeopardy. And GM has concluded that vehicle connectivity has contributed to decreased safety.
The information GM’s head of product for infotainment shared had less to do with time people spent using screens in cars and more on stability issues. CarPlay and Android Auto often lacked good connections, resulting in poor rendering or dropped calls. These issues created safety concerns themselves, as drivers would take their eyes off the road to attempt a fix or simply revert to their phones.
GM vehicle owners who’ve enjoyed the connectivity capabilities that CarPlay and Android Auto provided them have not been happy with the news. So what is GM’s plan to replace these systems? GM has its own infotainment system named Ultifit. This system will host standard apps like Google Maps and Spotify internally, removing the need for a phone connection. To be a truly “hands off” system, Ultifit can rely on voice commands to Google Assistant.
Safety is a good reason to make a big change. It’s unlikely that this is the only reason. If there’s one thing companies can never have enough of, it’s consumer data. Now, an infotainment system may not seem like the ideal source for this data. However, these systems can provide automakers with insight into app usage, duration usage and more. This kind of information might not seem like much, but it could potentially answer questions like: what other apps would people want in their vehicles? How much people would be willing to pay for access?
While a pay-to-play infotainment system from GM is a hypothetical, subscription services from auto manufacturers is not. From remote start and heated seats to hands-free technology, companies are selling consumers on subscription services. There have been some bumps along the road toward this point. BMW received serious backlash from consumers when they attempted to charge subscription fees for heated seats and steering wheel packages. But an S&P Global Mobility survey shared that buyers are open to paying for subscription packages.
While Tesla, BMW, Ford and other auto manufacturers are happy to use the subscription model for some of their packages, none of them have made a move like GM. Whether they’re content with the information they currently have, the product CarPlay and Android Auto provide or are simply waiting to see how successful GM’s attempt with their own system is remains to be seen. Remember, Netflix sat alone as a streaming service provider for a long time before the market became flooded with competitors.
The most important question, more important than why GM is dropping CarPlay and Android Auto or when the full switch to Ultifit, is how. How does this impact you? Unless you currently drive a GM, it might not. Even if you do, there should be plans for updating CarPlay and Android Auto software in older vehicles. Realistically, the biggest impact on you will be in the future. If GM’s infotainment system is successful, other auto manufacturers may follow suit. If GM decides to charge for it, that may become a standard cost in vehicle ownership as well. It’s also possible that, as with BMW, consumers reject the new program, driving GM to back pedal. Or the widespread plan for Ultifit never takes off. Right now, the impact is no more than a stone dropped into a pond. In time, we’ll see how big the ripples grow.
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