Apple CarPlay may start hitting its potential with iOS 10

Sprinkled amidst the various features and changes unveiled at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) keynote was a nod to how new iOS features could enhance how CarPlay will work in vehicles moving forward.

Whenever Apple makes big changes to iOS and its core apps, CarPlay tends to change in the process. Since the platform resides on the iPhone and projects to a compatible head unit in the car, key updates can upgrade smartphone integration in a way that automakers simply can’t offer on their own.

The company didn’t go into any real depth about what’s in store for its in-car software platform, but some clues were left out in the open. Much of it is based on the fact Apple is finally opening up Siri and Maps to developers. Not only are these two moves long overdue, but they are inherently necessary to make CarPlay safer and more useful for drivers.

Beyond that are basic additions that will make the platform more customizable and hands-off than it otherwise needs to be. Here is a quick rundown of what you can expect to come with the launch of iOS 10 in the fall.

Siri will talk more

At the moment, the only messaging app that has CarPlay support is Apple’s own Messages app. It works well through Siri, keeping drivers focused and away from fiddling with their iPhones, but without broader access to third-party messaging apps, the integration feels half-baked.

By adding WhatsApp and Slack, plus VoIP calling with Skype, this opens the door for the kind of app integration that is still sorely lacking in CarPlay. Being able to have a WhatsApp message read out loud, and then responding to it through Siri without ever looking at the phone is expanding the convenience.

This is likely only the beginning and scratching the surface of what Siri will tap into with CarPlay. Ford’s partnership with Spotify in Sync 3 has already shown how it’s possible to select a saved playlist by voice. There’s no reason Siri can’t do the same. It would be a huge undertaking to index Spotify’s immense catalog, but to index the tracks you’ve saved wouldn’t have to be, and that’s where things could get interesting.

Much like how music stored on the iPhone is searchable through Siri, having all of the streaming services be searchable would be real game-changer in how people listen to music in their cars.

Maps become clearer

As maligned as Apple Maps has been, it’s the only mapping option on CarPlay. If it’s mediocre, then that reflects on the entire platform. Apple did a good job in adding some context with the “Nearby” feature that displays gas stations, restaurants, coffee, parking, groceries and quick directions to a destination.

Now, with live visual traffic aids and a dynamic view of the map that automatically zooms in and out, the map should feel improved, too. ‘Should’ being the operative word there.

Searching for stops along a route is effectively a more active extension of Nearby, making points of interest easier to see and get to. Since Google Maps or Waze are unlikely to get the golden pass onto CarPlay, Apple will have to deliver something comparable with its own mapping app.


Ultra-widescreens and physical controls

Some automakers, particularly BMW, have started using an ultra-widescreen on the dash head unit, and for CarPlay to work on those types of screens, Apple had to make them compatible. iOS 10 will do that.

Moreover, the platform will be designed to work in a hybrid setup where physical controls will be able to navigate the interface. This is largely a concession to German automakers that use rotary dials and hard buttons to cycle through their own respective infotainment software platforms.

Even though they are moving to add touchscreens, having both is important to them.

What’s unclear is when wireless CarPlay will be made available and which automakers will offer it. Until that happens, the platform can only work when plugged in directly to a compatible vehicle’s USB port.

Finally, some customization

Since its inception, CarPlay has been as rigid as it gets on customization. So much so that there is no settings app to change anything. Apps are laid out in sequence — core apps first, followed by third-party ones in alphabetical order. It would seem to make sense in maintaining some tidiness, except it isn’t practical, especially as the list of compatible apps grows.

iOS 10 will allow for rearranging apps in whatever order you want, harkening back to a time when such a feature was available on the iPhone for the first time.

It’s not evident how far the customization goes, like if wallpaper will be allowed or if split-screening two apps will be possible, for example. Time will tell once iOS 10 launches.

The timing for these updates couldn’t be better, given that this is the year CarPlay has started to make major inroads into new vehicles.