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How much will CarPlay cost?

Wes Miller has a useful summary of CarPlay:

In short, Apple hasn’t done a complete end around of the OEM – the automaker can still have their own UI for their own in-car functions, and then Apple’s distinct CarPlay UI (very familiar to anyone who has used iOS 7) is there when you’re “in CarPlay”, if you will. It seems to me that CarPlay can best be thought of as a remote display for your iPhone, designed to fit the display of your car’s entertainment system. Some have said that “CarPlay systems” are running QNX – perhaps some are. The head unit manufacturer doesn’t really appear to be important here. The main point of all of this is it appears the OEM doesn’t have to do massive work to make it functional, it really looks to primarily be integrating in the remote display functionality and the I/O to the phone.

In fact, the UI of the Ferrari as demonstrated doesn’t look to be that different from head units in previous versions of the FF (from what I can see). Also, if you watch the Apple employee towards the end, you can see her press the FF “app”, exiting out to the FF’s own user interface, which is distinctly different from the CarPlay UI. The CarPlay UI, in contrast, is remarkably consistent across the three examples shown so far. While the automakers all have their own unique touches, and controls for the rest of the vehicle, these distinct things that the phone is, frankly, better at, are done through the CarPlay UI.

It’s fascinating to think about who owns the power here. On one hand, geeks like myself may very well base a car purchasing decision on CarPlay; then again, it was geeks like myself who were willing to change carriers to get an iPhone. Many simply stayed with their carriers and waited for the iPhone to come to them.

The proportion between those two types was the basis of one of the more interesting bets in recent years; Apple originally wanted to launch the iPhone on Verizon, but Verizon refused to give Apple carte blanche over the user experience and phone appearance. AT&T née Cingular, on the other hand, gave over said control in exchange for exclusivity, and, ultimately, Apple (and AT&T) won the bet: enough users left Verizon that they had no choice but to acquiesce to Apple.

If that is the case with cars, then a CarPlay option is likely to be more expensive than a standard entertainment system, not less. Apple will push the idea that CarPlay will drive purchase intent, and that car makers ought to pay for the privilege.

On the other hand, the car industry is far more concentrated than even the carrier industry, with only about 10 players that really matter. Moreover, when it comes to a 10s of thousands of dollars purchase, just how much of a role can an Apple-designed entertainment system play? The Mercedes and Ferrari systems, with control-knob and resistive touch display control respectively, certainly suggest that Apple – who would certainly prefer a Volvo-like capacitative display – doesn’t have as much control over the interface as they would normally be accustomed to. This would suggest a much lower price, and a strategy that is based more on propping up the iPhone than on building a separate revenue stream.

Regardless, the primary takeaway remains, as always, that the product itself is not nearly sufficient to fully understand the strategic intent.

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