Apple's delay in mainland launch for CarPlay could benefit rival platforms

Safer driving system will arrive in more mature markets first, amid doubts over China demand

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 March, 2014, 11:36am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 May, 2015, 4:14pm

Apple's new CarPlay technology could redefine how carmakers integrate smartphones and mobile applications into their vehicles, but its debut in the world's largest car market will have to wait.

"There may not be such a strong demand for CarPlay in [mainland] China," Sandy Shen, director for consumer services at technology research firm Gartner, said on Tuesday.

"Consumers here will not go out of their way to buy a new car just because of this technology. People will also continue to use their mobile phones without regard to safe driving."

Users can control CarPlay from the vehicle's own interface or simply push and hold the voice control button on the steering wheel to activate Siri, Apple's intelligent digital assistant program, without taking their eyes from the road.

Apple will initially introduce CarPlay in more mature car markets, including Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Australia, the United States, Britain, France, Italy and Switzerland.

Bryan Wang, a vice-president at Forrester Research, said: "I expect the cars with CarPlay will offer a unique selling point for a certain group of current iPhone users … in terms of boosting car sales, I doubt it."

Apple announced CarPlay at the Geneva International Motor Show in Switzerland on Monday, where its high-profile launch partners were Ferrari, Daimler's Mercedes-Benz and Volvo, now owned by mainland carmaker Zhejiang Geely.

The technology giant said CarPlay, an update to the iOS 7 mobile operating system, provided a "smarter, safer and more fun way" for motorists to use their iPhones in cars. It supports the iPhone 5s, 5c and 5 models.

Other carmakers expected to outfit selected models with CarPlay include BMW, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai Motor, Jaguar Land Rover, Kia Motors, Subaru, Mitsubishi Motors, Suzuki, Nissan Motor, PSA Peugeot Citroen and Toyota.

Consulting firm Booz & Co forecast last year that the car industry's "connected safety features and safe driving components" segment would generate up to €49 billion (HK$521 billion) in global sales by 2020.

Trevor Hale, Ford's spokesman on the mainland, said: "We encourage the use of hands-free, voice-activated technology to help drivers keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road."

Data from the World Health Organisation show that about 1.24 million people die each year as a result of road traffic accidents around the world. As a means to help steadily reduce the number of global road fatalities, the United Nations Road Safety Collaboration plan for 2011-2020 has encouraged "universal deployment of improved vehicle safety technologies".

Hale said Ford, which sold 935,813 vehicles on the mainland last year, was aware that "customers in China increasingly want to stay connected while in their vehicles. So, we see continued high demand for all kinds of in-car communications technology".

While CarPlay delays its entry on the mainland, other technologies are likely to make more noise in a market where about 250 million vehicles were on the road last year.

Ford has its own in-car voice-control platform for smartphone applications, called "Sync App Link", which will be available in Putonghua on the mainland this year in its Focus and Fiesta models.

Zhao Tao, a spokesman for BMW China, said the company offers its own "ConnectedDrive" in-car information and entertainment platform. BMW sold 390,713 vehicles on the mainland last year.

Ferrari unveiled its first CarPlay-enabled model, the four-seater, four-wheel-drive FF, on Tuesday.

Ferrari China spokeswoman Joy Guo said the company, which sold about 700 vehicles on the mainland last year, would follow the CarPlay roll-out in Hong Kong this month.

Guo said "consumers on the mainland also want to have connectivity [in their cars]".

Wang said CarPlay's entry to the mainland car market would ultimately "depend on its success in supporting local apps", such as those from search engine Baidu and review site which carmakers like BMW already work with.