Apple’s CarPlay “introduction” at the Geneva Motor Show last week lacked all of the normal Apple trappings of a market changing event.  Maybe that is because Apple is late to the smartphone integration game and the largest and most sophisticated car makers have already solved this problem.

That may be why Apple canned a planned Geneva Apple Store event and went with a more or less stealth announcement with press releases, a Website and a full court press on the show floor with the senior Apple automotive team members and support staff giving in-car demos to the press.  After the press days the Apple personnel were gone along with their beta demos.

What lingered was a sense of an opportunity missed.  BMW summed up the sentiments of automotive industry leaders in noting that it was perfectly happy with its existing Apple integration (BMW Apps) and saw no need to shift to the new platform.  No doubt Ford, GM, Chrysler and others shared this sentiment.

This was in contrast to Mercedes colleagues who said that they intended to port their existing Apple integration over to CarPlay.  But without a broad alliance of car makers shouting their intentions to launch in 2014, the CarPlay fanfare ultimately fizzled.  Fueling the fizzle was a lack of any announced plan from Apple to invest Microsoft-like dollars in brand-defining advertising a la Ford SYNC.

But even more pronounced was Apple’s failure to deliver a solution capable of mitigating driver distraction or leveraging the smartphone to summon assistance in the event of a crash.  By launching in Europe at the Geneva Show and on the eve of the implementation of the European eCall mandate, Apple could have seized the day with a smartphone-based eCall solution.

Most notable about this failure was a report which appeared days later in the Times of India pointing out that Apple had just published a patent for a theoretical feature that would enable a “mobile device to detect an emergency and alert your designated contacts or the police.”  According to the report: “Users could choose the event that would trigger the emergency call, whether it's a shock detected by the accelerometer, a sudden loud noise picked up by the microphone, or the headphones being yanked out of their jack.

“There's even mention of a "dead man's switch," where the user would hold down a button or portion of the touchscreen, and letting go would trigger the response, or a "failsafe mode" that requires regular interaction to prevent the alarm. Another implementation would detect traffic accidents by monitoring accelerometers for a sudden stop.”

It’s not clear why Apple was unable to connect these technology dots and deliver a powerful statement regarding its comprehension of automotive priorities and its ability to fulfill them.  The wider implementation of Siri will certainly influence natural language understanding adoption in cars – but Siri remains a pale imitation of true automotive grade speech solutions.

 

So, Apple’s CarPlay emerges as the dominant story impacting the automotive industry at Geneva.  But without a more visionary execution it boils down to just another clever app.  CarPlay won’t even help you schedule a service visit at your dealer!