EDITORIAL: All of a sudden putting a smartphone OS in your car doesn’t seem so smart.

Apple’s got CarPlay and pretty soon Android Auto will come out to challenge it. It seems like a sensible way to go… carmakers have looked for ways to phase out expensive GPS systems and CD players and still offer value to the customer. Most people use their smartphones for those tasks anyway. So why not build support for them right into the car?

I’m on board with this as long as the manufacturer gives you the choice of CarPlay or Android Auto, but the chances are they won’t. Chances are that most car makers will offer one and not the other, and if their choice doesn’t work well with your phone, you run the risk of losing a lot of critical function. You’ll probably still get Bluetooth audio but you’ll lose voice dialing and access to that center stack monitor.

CarPlay sounded like a good idea when it was first announced. After all, why not put the power of your smartphone to work instead of forcing it to rely on out-of-date technology for the car’s entire existence? It still sounds like a good idea, in fact, and that’s why Android wants to do the same thing. There’s just a shortsightedness to all of this; it makes the car less useful in the long term as it’s a sure bet that future devices won’t be compatible with today’s ones. At least a 10-year-old car with a GPS has some sort of mapping, even if it’s out of date. At least the CD player in your ’01 Explorer still plays CDs, even if you have to burn them yourself.

No one is talking about what happens five years from now when the next big communications device comes around and topples the existing kingdom. No one is even talking about what might happen next year if you decide to change from iOS to Android or vice versa. Of course handset makers would love to find yet another way to lock you into their ecosystems, and that’s exactly what they hope will happen here.

Oh, by the way, what if you have Windows Phone, Blackberry or (gasp) a dumbphone? Are you totally locked out? Probably. This could actually have a chilling effect on car sales. It’s all too much to think about… maybe we really were better off before computers invaded cars.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.