Hyundai said Tuesday it would be the first manufacturer to put Google's Android Auto into a production car, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata sedan. Not to be outdone, General Motors said today it'd offer both Android Auto and Apple's CarPlay on several Chevrolet models set to hit dealerships this summer.
By giving car buyers the choice between these rival phone-projection systems, Chevrolet hopes to quell concerns from prospective customers worried about the compatibility of their smartphones and vehicles.
"It's about providing choice," said Alicia Boler-Davis, GM's senior vice president for global connected car consumer experience. "No two customers are alike, and we cannot expect a single solution that works for every driver in every situation."
Across the industry, automakers are rushing to add both to their cars as a growing base of customers seek an array of connected features. Estimates from automotive technology research firm SBD indicate smartphone-integrated content is available in 36 percent of current vehicles, and the company expects that penetration rate will grow to 84 percent by 2025.
For Chevrolet, the systems will be available on select 2016 iterations of the Cruze, Camaro, Volt, Spark and Malibu as early as next month, and appear on 14 Chevy models overall for the 2016 model year. They're available on all trim levels, but they only work with the company's MyLink infotainment package installed in the cars, and the first to hit showrooms will only work on the seven-inch touchscreen models.
"CarPlay and Android Auto, these are things that are addressable to the broad market, and I think it makes a lot of sense for GM to put it into Chevys first," IHS Automotive senior analyst Mark Boyadjis said.
Via physical connections, both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto allow users access to smartphone features like turn-by-turn directions, phone calls, voice-to-text messages and music streaming. Interfaces are similar to the ones found on the respective smartphones, but on the dashboard, they're redesigned for a simpler, in-car experience. Fonts are larger, for example, and easier to press on a touchscreen. CarPlay relies heavily on Siri so that drivers spend more time staring at the road instead of their touchscreen.
That sounds good, at least in theory. Voice-recognition software that automakers tout as a safer alternative to handheld devices can be just as distracting to drivers, a recent AAA study found. The results varied by automaker, but the motoring organization found Chevy's MyLink voice system to be the most distracting of all tested systems. While GM executives heaped praise upon the safety aspects of voice-recognition technology, whether CarPlay or Android Auto help ease the brand's poor reputation in the voice realm remains a critical question.
"Leveraging voice recognition may allow drivers to keep their hands on the wheel, but it doesn't solve the distracted driving problem," says Jake Nelson, director of traffic safety advocacy at AAA. "Hands-free cell phone conversations quadruple a driver's risk of a crash, and that's the same risk seen with hand-held cell-phone use while driving."
For Chevy, the additions are the latest efforts to push the brand to the forefront of a connected generation of young users. Previously, GM debuted its 4G LTE WiFi hotspots across the brand last year. In 2013, the company rolled out its Siri Eyes Free voice-recognition systems on the Spark and Sonic.
But in a converging industry where traditional automakers and tech giants like Apple and Google are both partners and potential competitors, analysts aren't sure whether this latest move helps Chevy or relegates its brand to an afterthought.
It may be an advantage for Chevy in the short term, Boyadjis said. But once other OEMs catch up, he fears there won't be much to differentiate Chevy from any other automaker on their dashboards – the spot where customers most frequently interact with their cars.
"I'm not quite sure Chevrolet has really nailed how to differentiate the user experience here, and that's just a concern," he said. "You can make it unique with some car-related apps or really build OnStar and Remote Link into the experience somehow, but Google and Apple might not find value in that. It's just an interesting paradigm, with the device maker not controlling the user experience."
Chevy says it still offers differentiated services, and will maintain proprietary apps that work on MyLink. Emergency services are still available via OnStar subscriptions, and MyLink still offers diagnostic support and remote-start options. But when it comes to distinguishing its brand, Chevy's overall message seems to be that it does not care.
"This is not about embedded versus brought-in," said Saejin Park, GM's director of innovation and portfolio planning. "It really is about providing solutions to customers. Some customers say, 'I don't want to bother with anything. I want to get into the car.' For other people who like to play with toys, they like the toys to work in their vehicle. This is about providing alternatives in a way that is seamless."