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CarPlay on Tesla?

Tesla does not currently offer CarPlay. We delve into what it is, what it might provide and issues that may slow or prevent implementation. Tesla has never stated if CarPlay will be available in the future and none of this article is based on any internal knowledge of Tesla’s plans.  Google’s Android Auto is a similar system for Android devices is covered in a similar article. (updated Oct-2019)

Background

Apple’s CarPlay was launched in March 2014 and is available on one car in late 2014 and a few more in 2015. Today a number of cars have CarPlay when a display option is offered. The design allows car-specific apps to appear on the car’s infotainment screen, with touch operations passed back to the phone.  CarPlay works through a proprietary Lightning connector. In the future, CarPlay may work over WiFi as well.  Only iPhone 5 variants and later are supported with CarPlay.

Implementations are mostly done by a small number of third-party OEMs that sell the infotainment systems to major vehicle manufactures. We are not aware of any vehicle manufacture actually implementing CarPlay in-house.

Primary Features
  • Phone – take and make calls
  • Maps and Turn-by-turn directions
  • Music player
  • Podcasts
  • AudioBooks and iBooks
  • Text messaging
  • Siri Voice commands
  • Select apps are written specifically for CarPlay, such as Spotify, Overcast, etc.
  • Use of the iPhone’s data plan
Possible Issues to Implementation
  1. Legal – there could be risks to the automaker if an app does something bad. Examples include flashing a distracting red/black screen, showing porn, or advertisements. This could be distracting enough to cause a crash. We don’t think this is a huge issue and may be dealt with a warning that using apps is the responsibility of the owner and Tesla does not validate applications.
  2. Licensing – Apple requires manufacturers to pay for and license CarPlay technology. The terms are not publicly available, so we don’t know if the terms are trivial or significant. Various patent licenses may also be required, but likely would be part of Apple’s license.
  3. Duplication – many of the features are duplicate of Tesla’s existing features. It is unclear if these can be removed or must be included. Some are clearly better than Tesla, while some are considered inferior.  If duplicates are included, it offers a confusing set of different interfaces and makes documentation that more difficult. Still, having more choices is often better – users can choose what they prefer.
  4. Advertising – It is unclear if the long-term goal is to include on-screen advertising to the user. This would seem to go against a premium product design such as Tesla’s vehicles. It’s also unclear who controls this and who gets the financial benefits. Overall, likely not a big issue if Tesla is allowed to prevent ads.
  5. Control – Implementing CarPlay is ceding control and style to an outside vendor. Future features and designs are outside Tesla’s control. This could benefit or harm Tesla’s direction. For example, if a gas MPG app were to be a “required” app that makes no sense on an EV, it just looks bad on the Tesla. On the other side, some new currently unknown app might be very beneficial to Tesla’s owners. One poster indicated vendors do have some control over what apps appear.
  6. Performance – Tesla uses a fairly high-powered quad-core computer for the infotainment system, so we don’t expect this is a limiting factor. Less known is the memory available to support CarPlay. We do know memory RAM and Flash memory is limited and adding CarPlay might require Tesla to remove or limit existing features. This could be solved in future cars with increased memory. A retrofit is also likely possible for older cars but could be expensive.
  7. Software – It’s unclear how much work is required to implement CarPlay as the interfaces are not public. Our guess is it’s not trivial, but not huge either. Perhaps 2-4 man-years of software development. Some continuing engineering is also required to support changes Apple will produce in the future.
  8. Memory – With MCU1 Tesla is really at the limits and has little room for additional applications. Tesla is already shrinking streaming music buffers and has to force a USB to reindex if higher priority memory needs occur. MCU2 has additional memory and should have room for additional apps.
  9. Cost – We don’t think the licensing fees are huge, but they could be based on a percent of the device (the car?) or require annual fees. It may be considerably cheaper for other automakers that buy an OEM head unit rather than Tesla’s integrated infotainment system. One poster who knows the costs indicated the fees are minimal.
  10. Harm – We suppose it might be possible for a hacker to use a CarPlay app to hack into the Tesla and cause mischief. The implementation must isolate CarPlay so it can’t do any harm to other vehicle systems. Depending on Tesla’s current design, this might require a significant redesign of the base software, but we suspect it can handle safe isolation fairly easily.
  11. Competitor – With Apple rumored to be a future direct Tesla competitor with Apple’s own EV, Tesla may not want to give up any part of the control of Tesla’s vehicles to Apple.
CarPlay Concept

Generally, CarPlay takes over the entire screen in landscape mode on small-screen cars. We presume that Tesla would provide an icon and pane for CarPlay. This is a mockup on how it may look. Tesla is not likely to get control of icon styles, text style or sizing other than a frame to display CarPlay.

Carplay Concept on Tesla

Alternatives

Currently, the iPhone can be controlled by Tesla’s vehicles over Bluetooth for phone calls, contacts, calendar, and music. Siri can also be used today with the iPhone’s own microphone.

Apple’s MirrorLink replicates the phone on the infotainment screen providing full access to the phone’s entire set of applications (not a limited CarPlay set). Tesla has stated some mirroring capability may be coming to the software.  Some Apple owners seem to feel this is an inadequate solution and would prefer to be limited to CarPlay applications. Until we see Tesla’s implementation, it is unclear if this will be better or worse than CarPlay.

Some users also add an iPhone dash mount, so they have full iPhone access today. While functional, it is not as nice as an integrated solution and uses the main Tesla screen.

Competitive Notes

Some automakers include CarPlay for free when the premium display/navigation is purchased. Others charge an extra fee. For example, BMW charges $300 on the select vehicles that have a CarPlay option.

4 thoughts on “CarPlay on Tesla?

  1. TeslaTime says:

    Not sure when this was posted since oddly there is no date on the post but every car manufacturer you list as not having announced CarPlay already has CarPlay in their latest vechicles except Tesla. Infiniti has announced but not available yet. So it appears every other brand has not seen a challenge with any of the issues noted above. The one relevant issue you mention however is presumably the real reason which is Apple may become a competitor so they don’t want customers to prefer Apple CarPlay and possibly end up switching to an Apple Car someday and since if people use CarPlay they won’t be using Tesla’s maps thus Tesla maps won’t get better as quickly. I think they will someday have to offer support but they will likely hold out as long as possible.

    • Moderator says:

      We posted this in 2017 and there has been a lot of talk about CarPlay over the last few years. I haven’t gone back and verified which automakers support or don’t support it, but considering how awful most car’s infotainment systems are, it makes sense for those carmakers to jump on the CarPlay bandwagon and avoid having to improve an otherwise crummy system.

  2. milleron says:

    Did you mean to say “Apple’s MirrorLink” in the penultimate section, “Alternatives?” MirrorLink is proprietary and is not compatible with any Apple products. If not “Apple’s MirrorLink,” what did you mean to say here? Is there, in fact, any way to mirror an iPhone screen to the Tesla media screen?

    • Moderator says:

      Sorry to say, there no way to mirror any phone screen in the Tesla. Seems like this idea was dropped, but who knows – Tesla could introduce something like it in the future.

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