Ferrari First to Market with Apple CarPlay, Mercedes to Offer Retrofit Solution by Year End

For tech geeks, the biggest news to come out of the Geneva motor show doesn’t involve carbon fiber, massive braking capability, or horsepower. It’s the arrival of CarPlay, Apple’s new system that integrates any fifth-generation iPhone or newer with a vehicle’s infotainment system. As we mentioned in our initial report, Mercedes-Benz will offer CarPlay in the 2015 C-class, but ultimately it was Ferrari who made the loudest noise about CarPlay on the floor in Geneva.

The day before the first press day in Geneva, we’d been scheduled for a sneak peek at the fully operational CarPlay in an all-new C-class. That was canceled at the very last moment, and it wasn’t long before speculation emerged of an Apple executive being perturbed by the size of an unspecified Benz logo in the infotainment system.

Smelling blood in the water, Ferrari invited Apple iOS marketing chief Greg Joswiak to appear onstage with Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo for Ferrari’s Tuesday morning press conference, the latter boldly stating that the “Ferrari FF is the first car in the world available with Apple’s CarPlay. As of tomorrow, you may buy a Ferrari FF with Apple’s CarPlay. Soon, Ferrari will have a new supply of vehicles to choose from, including the new Ferrari California T, and all of them will be available with Apple CarPlay.”

To be fair, Mercedes claims only to be first German premium automotive manufacturer to bring Apple’s CarPlay infotainment system into cars. Benz is, however, so far alone in its announcement that it will make retroactive installations of CarPlay available to owners of earlier models, hopefully by the end of this year, as reported by 9TO5Mac. While Android-based connectivity solutions are in the works, Apple isn’t taking a breather: According to 9TO5Mac, Apple’s recently released iOS 7.1 software update includes CarPlay-specific improvements.

While Volvo—whose CarPlay integration will debut in its upcoming XC90—and Ferrari use touch screens extensively, the Mercedes system, which communicates through a Lightning connection (no Bluetooth yet), relies on the COMAND knob or the new touchpad to navigate Apple’s interface. (At least in the new C-class; it’s possible other models could include further touch-screen integration.) The start-up screen reveals a reasonable facsimile of the iOS home screen, and Siri is fully functional, including the dictation of text messages. For a full demo, watch the video below.

We’ve long felt that lengthy automotive development cycles are by nature out of sync with the perpetually evolving technology market, and it makes perfect sense to place the most fickle pieces of the on-board technology puzzle—the user-facing software and operating systems—in easily updatable and comparatively inexpensive portable personal devices. Could Apple’s CarPlay be the system that finally integrates them fully enough to free automakers from developing and supporting proprietary systems that are often outdated within a year of launch while eliminating redundant hardware? Probably not.

However, if an aftermarket supplier were to come up with a unit that offered full Apple CarPlay capability, we suspect there would be no shortage of takers—across a pretty widespread cross section of vehicle applications. Anyone care to guess what might be hot at CES next year?

Written by Lewis Shaw

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