CarPlay is coming--Apple's initiative to create a smooth interaction between your iPhone and apps designed to work safely in your car. While some upcoming cars will have it integrated, on Tuesday Pioneer joined Alpine in announcing third-party, installable systems that can upgrade an older car.
Pioneer's edge over Alpine is that its NEX infotainment systems are already on the market, after being announced at CES earlier this year. The highest-end model, the AVIC-8000NEX, even has a capacitive touchscreen, just like a smartphone.
Anyone with a NEX system installed in their car will be able to download the firmware upgrade from Pioneer's website when it becomes available, Pioneer's Ted Cardenas confirmed in a briefing with TechHive. The NEX systems include a rear USB port and a USB cable extension, so users can load the upgrade via a USB thumb drive.
(A front USB port sounds more convenient to me, but Cardenas told me that most high-end system buyers prefer the USB port to be hidden in back, with a cable nestled discreetly somewhere like the glove compartment.)
Once you have CarPlay installed on your NEX system, connecting your iPhone is designed to be easy. "Because CarPlay is a core part of iOS 7.1, anyone with the OS can plug in the Lightning-to-USB cable, and CarPlay will automatically launch on their Pioneer NEX receiver," Cardenas explained.
CarPlay is just the latest technological advance for the NEX line. The products launched with a host of apps available through Pioneer's AppRadio app for iOS and Android. You download and install AppRadio, then find AppRadio-compatible apps in Apple's or Google's stores. Those apps, working via your USB-connected phone in your car, offer customized interfaces for NEX system displays.
The idea, of course, is to make it safer to use these apps in your car than it would be if you were trying to use them directly on your smartphone. We all know that's a bad idea, but it's hard to resist. Before CarPlay was even a bud on Apple's product tree, the Car Connectivity Consortium was busy developing MirrorLink, a standard for connecting smartphones to cars, and for showing smartphone apps on the car's display. CarPlay and MirrorLink aren't related, but to their credit, they're both trying to do the same, safer thing.
Pioneer would not confirm an availability date for its CarPlay upgrade beyond "early summer." Even within that vague window, however, it's possible Pioneer will beat Alpine, whose CarPlay-compatible systems are due to ship sometime in the second half of 2014.