What does CarPlay mean to Apple’s Business?

Now that iOS in the Car has been renamed CarPlay and will be shown off at the Geneva Motor Show, I thought it would be fun to start a discussion on what this all means to Apple, its competitors, and car drivers going forward.

It’s noteworthy that none of the deals announced so far are exclusive, and I think there’s an obvious logic behind this. If you are a car manufacturer, you know darn well that your customers will use iPhones, Android, Windows Phone and yes, even BlackBerry. The last thing you want to do is sign an exclusive deal with one phone manufacturer while another car manufacturer ends up supporting multiple platforms. All this does is potentially alienate certain customers and guarantee that you sell fewer cars.

So I don’t think I’m going out on much of a limb when I predict that all smartphone platforms will eventually be able to hook into almost any car. The car’s infotainment system will need to function as a two-way interface with the smartphone.

Does this mean there is no competitive advantage for Apple? I don’t think it’s quite that simple. The smartphone market has started to mature, but it’s still growing, so I think Apple can benefit from being a first mover.

BlackBerry’s co-founder Mike Lazaridis once told me, in only a half-joking way, that the car is the ultimate smartphone accessory. Phones usually result in the sales of accessories, and I suppose it’s possible that some iPhone owners will buy CarPlay-enabled vehicles like a big, expensive accessory to their iPhone. But I think it’s just as likely that things go in the other direction and car buyers pick an iPhone because of CarPlay.

So if all cars will support all major platforms in the long run, maybe there is a market opportunity for some third party to design an amazing infotainment system based on a proprietary OS that can connect into anything made by Google, Apple, Microsoft, etc?

Apple doesn't seem to have any interest in doing that. They AirPlay to televisions, they don't license out embedded operating systems to run the television's menu system and interactive features. Likewise, they CarPlay to vehicles, they don't license or embed the operating system that powers the infotainment display when there's no iPhone attached.

I'm fine with that. Apple does best when they stay focused. But it does mean there needs to be something running those systems. So... Hello QNX? Maybe BlackBerry can become the middleman between the world’s most popular smartphone operating systems and the world’s most popular cars?

Chris Umiastowski

Former sell side analyst, out-of-box thinker, consultant, entrepreneur. Interests: Wife & kids, tech, NLP, fitness, travel, investing, 4HWW.