Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) brought the surprise announcement that Apple is opening up CarPlay to more third-party developers, and the company even teased Google Maps (iOS, Android) and Waze (iOS, Android).
Here’s everything we know about the new apps coming to CarPlay this fall, as Apple prepares to unleash the September 12 event that will showcase its next generation of iPhones and other gear.
Google Maps goes up against a refreshed Apple Maps
Apple Maps has long been a pain point for CarPlay users. It doesn’t catalog as many roads as Google Maps, its arrival time estimations aren’t as good, and its rerouting around traffic congestion is hit-or-miss. By not keeping track of as many roads and sets of traffic conditions, Apple Maps can give you driving directions that take longer and may lead you to dead ends.
Google Maps, therefore, should be a breath of fresh air for CarPlay users. It has exhaustive knowledge of highways and byways, real-time traffic monitoring, accurate arrival times, and an Explore function to find local activities.
However, Apple is working hard this year to close the gap. CNET reported a few weeks ago that Apple has been replacing third-party map data with its own, albeit for select regions, starting with the San Francisco bay area where Apple is headquartered. It’s part of a big overhaul for Apple Maps, of which we’ve only seen a few tantalizing glimpses. (This may be what Apple’s “Gather round” invitation for September 12 is referencing, but it’s hard to say for sure.)
Additionally, CarPlay will still be powered by Siri. With Android Auto, you can simply say, “Hey Google, take me home,” and it will immediately start giving you turn-by-turn Google Maps directions to your residence. Presumably, that action will not exist in the CarPlay version.
But if Apple can beef up Siri’s voice recognition to smoothly do that for its own Maps app (more on that below), then CarPlay may not end up as the easy win for Google Maps that it looks like at first glance.
Either way, on all iOS devices, Siri is how you begin voice-activated interaction. So there will still be an extra step or two to get Google Maps to do the same things in CarPlay that it can do in Android Auto.
Ergo, Google Maps won’t fully become a drop-in replacement for Apple Maps, because you must ask Siri to open Google Maps before you can talk to the Google Assistant, just like you do when you’re holding an iPhone in your hand instead of plugging it into your car.
Apple also announced that the Waze navigation app (iOS, Android) is coming to CarPlay, which makes sense because Google bought the Israel-based developer in 2013 for about $1 billion USD. Waze goes beyond the usual driving directions by crowdsourcing live info about traffic backups, accidents, speed traps, and other transit issues.
As of March 2018, Waze counted about 100 million monthly active users, which is healthy by any measure, and Google appears to have taken a largely hands-off approach since they acquired it. Google Maps remains the king of this space, however, averaging literally one billion users a month.
The only other maps maker on record about coming to CarPlay is Sygic (iOS, Android), maker of another driving directions app, albeit one with a 3D look that should be familiar to people who are used to separate GPS navigation devices like those from Garmin and TomTom.
Don’t forget about Google’s transition to YouTube Music
Almost lost in the shuffle of tech news over the last few months is the fact that Google intends to add YouTube Music to CarPlay, as part of a long-term roadmap that eventually replaces Google Play Music (iOS, Android) as the company’s cornerstone music streaming platform.
Of course, music videos are a large part of YouTube Music’s appeal, but we don’t expect to see any video content in either CarPlay or Android Auto, as the opportunities for driver distraction are already pretty high.
Meanwhile, Google also released its own podcast app for Android, though we don’t know if they intend to bring it to CarPlay, where it would compete against several other established rivals such as Overcast, Downcast, and Apple’s own Podcasts app.
When will third-party apps come to CarPlay?
Unfortunately, the app development community has been largely silent about CarPlay this year, despite Apple’s announcement at WWDC. In fact, Google has not explicitly confirmed to the press that its maps apps are even coming to CarPlay — but it’s also made no effort to contradict Apple’s sales pitch.
So while we don’t have an exact release date, it’s reasonable to assume that Google Maps and Waze are coming to Apple CarPlay sooner rather than later, to take advantage of the fall iPhone buzz. (Meanwhile, Google itself will be launching its next set of Pixel phones and other devices just a few weeks from now.)
Hopefully, Apple and its new CarPlay partners will have some more concrete info at its September 12 iPhone launch event, such as when we can actually expect Google Maps, and how it will compare to the rebuilt Apple Maps.
The other high-quality apps that are already in Apple CarPlay
Apple keeps a running tally of CarPlay software on its website, and as of today, the company counts 20 third party apps. While it spotlights its own apps like Maps, Messages, Phone, and Music, the platform has already been open to direct competitors.
On the texting front, you can get WhatsApp (iOS, Android) in your car, and two audiobook apps to compete against the official one pre-installed in iOS. The remaining 17 third-party apps replace some or all of your radio dial, with podcasts, music streaming, and live sports coverage (though Clammr shut down in 2017 despite still being listed on Apple’s product page).
Here’s the full list from Apple, in alphabetical order:
- Amazon Music
- Audiobooks (Apple’s official pre-installed app)
- CBS Radio
- Clammr (discontinued)
- Google Play Music
- MLB.com At Bat
- NPR One
- Podcasts (Apple’s official pre-installed app)
- Radio Disney
- SiriusXM Radio
- Slacker Radio
- VOX Radio
(Disclosure: CBS Radio and Download.com are owned by the same parent company.)
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So in that context, Apple opening up CarPlay to Google Maps, Waze, and others is part of an established precedent. The more challenging concept is letting the Google Assistant into a space that was previously exclusive to Siri. Google’s AI has developed a reputation for better speech recognition and more extensive feedback.
However, the high quality of that feedback is largely thanks to the potentially vast amount of information that Google can collect from you via Gmail, location data, Google Maps navigation history, Google Pay transactions, and direct integration with Google search data.
In contrast, Apple has deliberately taken an approach that leaves most of your personal data points alone, to protect user privacy. This has the side effect of making Siri less useful than the Google Assistant, though it doesn’t explain why Siri’s speech recognition is notoriously hit-or-miss.
However, Apple recently hired an AI veteran away from Google to run the Siri department, and now none of the original creators of Apple’s virtual assistant work at the company anymore. While that’s too late in the game to expect major changes with Siri at the launch of the next set of iPhones on September 12, next year could be very interesting for her.
- Google Maps, Waze, YouTube Music, and the Sygic navigation app are coming to Apple CarPlay with the arrival of iOS 12.
- We don’t have actual release dates for these apps yet, but their developers are incentivized to get them out in time for the fall iPhone season.