General Motors has been much mocked over an executive’s ill-advised statement about GM’s decision to abandon CarPlay and Android Auto in favor of its own in-house infotainment system. All of this is surrounded by statements from Tim Babbitt, GM’s product chief for infotainment, paraphrased by MotorTrend (there were no direct quotes in the piece, except for a follow-up statement from the company to try to douse the fire), Basically systems like Google’s Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay are bad and unsafe.
The main culprit? These lines: “According to him, there is one important factor that did not make it into the fact sheet: security. Specifically, they cited driver distraction caused by cell phone use while driving. According to Babbitt, CarPlay and Android Auto have stability issues that manifest as poor connections, poor rendering, slow responses, and broken connections.
I ran an Android blog for seven years during the platform’s heyday. I’ve used Android Auto and CarPlay for as long as they’ve been around. They are not perfect (nothing is). In the early days, Android Auto had some implementation issues, sometimes, with phones that were brand new to the market. (Mostly it had to do with how Android phones handle a thing called MTP when plugged in.) And then, in the mid-2010s, there were a Very New phones are coming fast. Things were moving very quickly for many manufacturers. And given the contradictions between the dynamics of the automotive industry, it’s a bit of a miracle that things worked out at all. Apple, at least, only really had one device to target CarPlay at: the iPhone.
But there’s a long-standing adage that still mostly rings true today: Built-in infotainment systems, generally speaking, aren’t as good or simple as what you get with Android Auto or CarPlay. They passed Things have gotten better over the years – and the slow shift to larger, capacitive touchscreens and actual UX (in industry parlance this is user experience) design has gone a long way, and we shouldn’t discount that. But they haven’t been very good, and it’s not the type of integration we get with Android Auto or CarPlay. And given that people keep their cars for more than a decade, it’s important for technology to at least attempt to keep up with the times. The projections of Android Auto and CarPlay – whereby your phone powers what’s on the screen – have allowed this in a way that car makers haven’t.
Built-in infotainment systems have improved in recent years, but there’s still room for your phone.
Some of that is by design. Most auto makers move slowly because of the way the industry largely works. That doesn’t mean they’re stagnant (companies like Telsa and Rivian are proof of that), but they are extremely conservative, especially when it comes to things like driver safety and distractions. They’re right to be, and not just because there are very strict rules for this kind of thing.
But what GM is doing in dropping support for both Android Auto and CarPlay is akin to throwing out the baby with the bathwater. And in doing so, it’s obscuring its real complaint: losing control of your infotainment stack — and that means losing data and, ultimately, money.
An imperfect metaphor for obvious reasons, but stick with me here:
Imagine for a minute that you were looking to buy a new television. This is a purchase for a fairly large living room. Certainly not car-like, but it’s nothing. And this is a product you’re hoping to keep with you for a long time.
But what if that television is devoid of any HDMI port? What if you were only able to use the software, apps, and features that came with that television, at the mercy of the manufacturer.
Would you buy that TV? Would you buy a TV whose Netflix app wasn’t as good as the one available on Roku or Amazon Fire TV? Would you buy a TV whose Netflix app doesn’t update with new features? Would you buy a TV that locks you into a single user experience, even if everyone else has options?
Would you buy a television whose user experience is inferior to other options – and which doesn’t allow you to use anything else?
Chances are you won’t. At least you shouldn’t do this. Not in a world where you can get something very useful for under $100 – as long as you’re able to connect it to a TV.
Ignore all the press releases and commercials from the TV manufacturer that tell you how great and secure the built-in software is. And like the car industry, built-in systems from Samsung, LG and Vizio (to name three) have gotten much better. And while they’re perfectly fine for those who don’t want to use anything else, they’re still not as good as most outside options — say Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast with Google TV, or Apple TV. Think in. Nor is the hardware they run on upgradable, so you’ll always be at the mercy of those chipsets hidden inside the TV. And so you should still be able to use your devices to enhance your experience with the TV, provided that they work in a safe and consistent manner.
The option to use CarPlay and Android Auto with built-in infotainment should remain an option.
That’s what Android Auto and CarPlay do. They increase the usefulness of the built-in infotainment system. They don’t grab it completely. They do not (currently) control the operation of the car itself. (Although I would consider the argument that they should never do this, I also haven’t personally used Android Automotive. So I can’t speak on that.) And lest you think I’m a fan of aftermarket manufacturers. I’m discounting , their UX has also been pretty terrible to a large extent. But at least you’ll get more options if you go that route. pick your poison.)
It’s worth mentioning at this point that there are GM cars – including the new 2024 Blazer – that have “Google built-in.” That is, the infotainment has access to some Android apps without requiring your phone for anything. It’s part of Android Automotive, but different, and the naming is kind of messy, which is perfect for this kind of thing. And in any case, good luck selling it to people who use the iPhone.
While it’s certainly GM’s prerogative whether or not it wants to support CarPlay and Android Auto, it’s the customer’s prerogative whether or not to buy a car that lacks those features. Just like it is their prerogative whether they will buy a TV without HDMI port or not. And in any case, it will likely be a controversial issue. If and when GM realizes that customers aren’t buying cars and trucks without CarPlay and Android Auto, you’ll see it change its tune very quickly.