Is Apple CarPlay too distracting?

Apple CarPlay in a Ferrari
By Richard Devine on 1 May 2014 03:09 pm
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Being distracted in the car is a bad, bad thing. Using your phone, playing around with the stereo, talking to passengers, whatever form it takes, taking your eyes away from the road can prove fatal. So then, technology which adds yet more potential for distraction in the car is automatically a bad thing, right? Like Apple CarPlay, right? Well, yes. And no.

CarPlay isn't isolated, and we'd do well to remember that. Auto makers have been filling their vehicles with increasing amounts of technology for years. But, CarPlay does differ in that it is putting connected apps into the car that don't come from the manufacturer. Apple has control of the software experience and is offering an almost complete iPhone experience from the screen in your car.

A discussion has begun on this very topic in the Connectedly forums, so let's take a look at both sides of the argument.

The case for 'yes'

CarPlay iMessage

You're putting your iPhone into your car. Not just in to your car, but into your car. With CarPlay systems the iPhone has the ability to completely take over the manufacturers in-car equipment. While it isn't exactly open season, there are a number of apps that can take your attention away from driving. For example, selecting albums or playlists in Beats Music is more involved than hitting a button on the autochanger or turning the radio dial to another station. Both of which can often be instigated from the steering wheel.

There's also the fact that CarPlay puts your entire phone into the car. Contacts, Messages, Email, all of which are at your fingertips wherever you go and how fast you go there. Thankfully Siri plays a big part in the operation, but it's still there, and you're probably more likely to answer that call, reply to that message or email, than if you'd just stashed your phone away out of sight, and out of mind.

So yes, CarPlay could very well be a distraction behind the wheel, if for no other reason than the sheer amount of connectivity it suddenly integrates into your vehicle. But that isn't the whole story.

The case for 'no'

Mercedes CarPlay

Before I worked at Mobile Nations, I spent my working weeks driving the length of the UK. In my company car I was required to have a hands-free kit integrated into the stereo so that I could always be contacted on my company phone. A pretty rudimentary system by todays standards, with questionable accuracy on the voice activated calling. So, many times a day while driving, I would answer my phone or even instigate phone calls, all without touching my phone – a BlackBerry Curve if anyone was wondering!

The point to that story? Distracting technology in cars isn't new. As we've gradually become more mobile, connected everywhere, we've been connecting everything in our lives more and more. Sure, my old hands-free kit wouldn't help me play iHeartRadio, but it still offered a distraction. The key is responsible use, and only we, the drivers, can ensure that happens.

But Apple has done its part, too. Siri integration for voice calling and messaging keep your hands where they need to be, and the familiarity of the interface at least should mean less fumbling around to find what you're looking for in the first place. Also consider this; how many of us already have our iPhones mounted to the windshield as a GPS, hooked up to a bluetooth system or plugged in by an aux input cable? Arguably CarPlay will be much, much less awkward and distracting that that.

But the key point is this; CarPlay is as distracting as we make it. And as responsible drivers it should be used to enhance our driving experience. Not hinder it. But that's on us.

The bottom line

CarPlay

There is no right and wrong answer to this one. It isn't irresponsible of Apple – or any of the auto makers, for that matter – to keep piling this kind of technology into our vehicles. It's more important that we remember to be responsible drivers. Technology isn't to blame for our own human failings. If we choose to let it distract us, then it will. That's without even considering the fact that virtually no-one has even driven a car with this stuff in, yet.

But folks will have differing opinions on this. And that's important, too. The beauty of CarPlay is that you don't have to use it. Hell, if you don't have an iPhone you can't use it. Yes, it is plenty capable enough of causing distractions behind the wheel. But as drivers, we need to make sure it doesn't, just like any other piece of in-car technology. Apple isn't the only company innovating in the space, and we're going to get more connected with our cars. But we have to use them responsibly.

Join the discussion in the Connectedly forums!

Those are just some of my thoughts, and you're welcome to agree or disagree. We've got a poll and a discussion thread running over in the Connectedly forums on just this issue. We'd love to hear your own views on this topic, so be sure to join in the discussion either in the comments below or jump into the forums!

19 comments

Reader comments

Is Apple CarPlay too distracting?

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Well, it's a bit distracting, especially when someone hitches a ride and sees your phone contents in your in-car equipment.

Well, eventually the car is going to drive itself so when that happens we won't have to worry about being distracted.

Is a radio to distracting? are passengers? kids? dog? breathing? maybe we should drive around in single passenger vehicles, completely sterilized of any distractions. wait.. it's all the cars fault!! No breathing please! you're distracting me!

We live in a society where it's no ones fault.. it's the distractions fault and we need another law for that!

The distracted driving thing is getting really, really old.. We seem to blame anything but ourselves and then some a law will fix it. :(

Having gadgets installed in your car is convenient. But big bright displays like that could be distracting. Maybe it can be programmed to turn the display off automatically after a certain speed limit (if not on navigation mode of course).

If you ask me it is a bit distracting yes, but recognising the obvious benefits. I mean you can check your calls at the stop sign. No need to take your phone out if you wanna check missed calls et al. But yes the fact is that there will be a need to put some restrictions on it while you're driving.

They need to handle it like my incar navigation does. Unless the car is in park or neutral, almost all touch features are disabled.

Disabling features unless in park isn't the answer either...what if I'm having my passenger access the info? It's much safer than trying to pull off on the side of a busy interstate. I get that there's no way for the car to know, just saying that limiting functionality doesn't necessarily make it safer. Chances are, if the car won't provide the info the driver needs, when they need it, they're likely to just grab another device that will.

Personally, I do not like the idea of my car features being tethered to a specific type of phone. It should be opened to all phone types.

It may be distracting but it will evolve and the connected car is the future so we must accept that we are right now we are just cracking a few eggs on the way to a delicious omelet. Every revolution has to start somewhere

Yes, I think it will be. And I also do think it's a little much in the privacy department, too.

Compared to MirrorLink it is indeed more distracting. MirrorLink on the other hand is investing a lot of efforts to avoid driver distraction with their technology: e.g. Apps will need to fulfill certain criteria in order to be certified either while driving (non-distracting) or while standing.