GM’s announcement earlier this year that it would begin phasing out Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity on its new EVs and, eventually, all of its future products went over very poorly, to say the least. Those phone-mirroring programs are hugely popular among both new and used car buyers, making GM’s announcement difficult to understand. Now, the company has explained a bit more about its thinking to MotorTrend.

While GM representatives did offer some basic reasons for ditching the beloved programs at the time of the announcement, the whole decision was poorly communicated. A two-page “media fact sheet” listed some benefits to EV route planning and charging as well as the company’s semi-autonomous driving systems Super Cruise and Ultra Cruise; basically, GM could curate more of the experience by doing its own thing. None of that really explained why the company was taking away features customers like enough to make buying decisions based on them as, at the very least, an alternate option.

Stop Using Your Phone While Driving

Tim Babbitt, GM’s head of product for infotainment, gave MT a better explanation at a press event for the new Chevrolet Blazer EV, the flagship vehicle in the no CarPlay or Android Auto strategy (and our 2023 MotorTrend SUV of the Year winner). According to him, there’s an important factor that didn’t make it into the fact sheet: safety. Specifically, he cited driver distraction caused by cell phone usage behind the wheel.

According to Babbitt, CarPlay and Android Auto have stability issues that manifest themselves as bad connections, poor rendering, slow responses, and dropped connections. And when CarPlay and Android Auto have issues, drivers pick up their phones again, taking their eyes off the road and totally defeating the purpose of these phone-mirroring programs. Solving those issues can sometimes be beyond the control of the automaker. You can start to see GM’s frustration.

Babbitt’s thesis is that if drivers were to do everything through the vehicle’s built-in systems, they’d be less likely to pick up their phones and therefore less distracted and safer behind the wheel. He admits, though, GM hasn’t tested this thesis in the lab or real world yet but believes it has potential, if customers go for it.

How Does That Work?

To that end, GM’s “Ultifi” infotainment software features a suite of fully integrated Google apps like Maps and the Google Assistant, plus popular apps like Spotify and Audible. Installing Google Maps directly into the car obviates a major source of customer ire and major motivator for using CarPlay and Android Auto in the first place by getting rid of subpar in-house navigation systems and replacing them with a program everyone knows and prefers.

The real lynchpin of this strategy, though, is the Google Assistant. Voice controls in cars are nothing new, but they’ve long been even worse than automaker navigation systems. A digital assistant that actually works and has full access to the vehicle’s systems, though, is a potentially powerful tool. Not only can it handle calls and texting through any Bluetooth-paired phone, but it can control the audio, navigation, climate, and more all while the driver keeps their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road. While CarPlay and Android Auto’s capabilities and access to in-vehicle data have expanded over the years, they still don’t have access to most of those systems.

Can’t You Just Plug The Phone In?

The issues Babbitt cited with CarPlay and Android Auto seem like they’d be mostly linked to using those programs wirelessly, and while he says that’s true, just plugging the phone into a USB data port doesn’t solve all the problems. Babbitt says even when using a physical connection, Android phones are prone to compatibility issues between the vehicle and all the various phone manufacturers running Android. iPhones, meanwhile, suffer from backwards compatibility issues that cause older iPhone models to have trouble running CarPlay consistently.

He points to J.D. Power data that shows issues with CarPlay and Android Auto are common owner complaints, and that customers tend to blame the automaker rather than the phone manufacturer or phone software. In that way, eliminating CarPlay and Android Auto potentially relieves GM of a key customer complaint dragging down their perceived quality scores.

It’s Also About Money And Data

While Babbitt’s reasoning is sound, there’s more to this strategy than simple altruism. Automakers worldwide have been squabbling with Apple and Google for years over access to, control over, and ownership of data generated in the vehicle. Regardless of whose software the driver is using, enormous amounts of data are being collected on how they drive, where they go, the apps they use while driving, and more. That data is valuable to the automakers and tech companies both for customer research as well as to be anonymized, packaged, and sold to third parties.

Then there’s the actual spending drivers do. While not yet popular, apps already exist that allow owners to spend money through a vehicle’s infotainment system, such as when buying gas or food at certain retailers and restaurants. In addition to potentially buying things from GM or GM’s partners through their car’s infotainment system, GM is also looking at subscription services that would be managed through the same interface. GM’s chief digital officer, Edward Kummer, told Reuters as much when the decision to drop CarPlay and Android Auto was announced. Automakers see subscriptions as huge new source of income to be tapped, with GM alone hoping to make as much as $25 billion per year just off subscriptions by 2030.

GM already runs the oldest in-car subscription service around, OnStar, and has clearly stated plans to expand its subscription model to Super Cruise and Ultra Cruise in the future. The new CarPlay and Android Auto-free infotainment systems coming on the Blazer EV and future GM EVs include eight years of data to run their Google-based programs like Maps and Assistant, but after that, owners will be expected to pay for further data usage.

It’s Not Just GM

While GM is taking a lot of heat for shunning CarPlay and Android Auto, it’s worth pointing out other companies have done the same thing. The most prominent is Tesla, which has never offered either and has still managed to become enormously popular. Rival EV automaker Rivian also doesn’t offer either program on its vehicles so far. Still, it’s clearly a gamble on GM’s part, and a bit of a game of chicken with a large contingent of modern vehicle owners and smartphone users. We’ll have to see if GM’s confidence in their own system can pay off without its own connectivity and reliability shortcomings. At the end of the day, it probably pays to go sit in the car you want to buy and fiddle with the buttons to see what you could actually live with.

Update 12/12:

After this story was published, GM contacted us with the following statement:

“We wanted to reach out to clarify that comments about GM’s position on phone projection were misrepresented and to reinforce our valued partnerships with Apple and Google and each company’s commitment to driver safety. GM’s embedded infotainment strategy is driven by the benefits of having a system that allows for greater integration with the larger GM ecosystem and vehicles.”

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