Still no sign of the Apple Car – could we make our own instead?
Several years ago, the thought of an Apple Car was all the rage as rumors started to fly around about “Project Titan,” a secret team at Apple supposedly working on designing a car. Reports have quietened down since then, but of course developing a working automobile from scratch is a long, long project. We’ve been wondering: is Apple still working on something?
What happened to the Apple Car?
There’s still plenty of evidence to suggest Apple is at the very least interested in making a car. Apple has been snapping up automotive experts over the last few years, hiring experienced car folk for unspecified jobs. The company has reportedly been offering big bucks to Tesla engineers in the hope of luring them to new pastures, and Tesla CEO Elon Musk says its an “open secret” that Apple is developing a car.
CEO Tim Cook noted at an earnings call in 2017 that the automotive industry was ripe for a technological revolution, though he refused to confirm or deny Apple’s exact intentions in that space. Cook even appeared on a special edition of Carpool Karaoke ahead of Apple’s purchase of the in-car comedy show from CBS – if that’s not a sign that Apple love cars, we don’t know what is.
Other sources, however, claim that Apple has canceled its ambitions to design its own car and will instead work on the software side of the self-driving car market. Maybe we’ll see the company partnering with auto manufacturers to install an improved version of CarPlay in existing car models – there were even rumors that Apple was in talks to buy McClaren at one point.
Whatever is really going on behind the scenes, one thing is for certain: any Apple-branded car won’t be available for several years, if ever. Industry analyst Ming-Chi Kuo predicts we might see one by 2025. So what could we do to get the benefits of a smart car now?
Apple-ify your ride
Though pundits are torn on what form an Apple Car would take, we can be pretty sure that it will connect seamlessly to an iPhone and flaunt the latest in-car technologies. In the meantime, maybe it’s possible to trick out your existing ride to make your very own “Apple Car’ experience?
To get the most out of your iPhone in the car, we reckon you’ll need it to perform triple duty as sat nav, handsfree phone, and media player. Maybe you already use your iPhone for some of those things – but let’s look at a few different ways to achieve those goals without buying a new car.
Arguably, there’s not much point in a standalone sat-nav anymore, now smartphones are so well-connected. You can achieve much the same effect by combining a mapping application with a good car mount for your iPhone.
Which app you use for your travel needs is really a case of personal preference. Apple’s preinstalled Maps app got some flak on first release, but its improved a lot since then and has the added benefit of playing nice with Siri, which is a big advantage when it comes to in-car use. “Hey Siri, take me home,” is enough to launch the app and start directions.
If you’re not so keen on Apple Maps, the obvious alternative is Google Maps. It’s usually one step ahead in terms of added features (offline maps, in particular, are very useful) and it’s a bit more reliable overall. It’s also a free service.
Or, if you want a reliable sat-nav name with bells and whistles aplenty, you might want to consider the TomTom GO app. It’s free if you use it for less than 50 miles per month – enough to try it out before committing – but you’ll need an $18/£18 annual subscription to get any serious use from it. This is probably the closest approximation of a conventional sat-nav unit.
“But where will my phone go while its giving me directions?” I hear you cry! Well, you’re going to need a car mount to keep your iPhone from sliding around out of view while you’re using it. A decent mount is really important if you’re going to use tech in your car – it should sit somewhere clearly in view so you don’t have to take your eyes off the road to glance at the map ahead.
Our favorite iPhone holder for the car is the Kenu Airframe+, which slots onto a standard dashboard air vent and firmly grips your device in place. It’s big enough to hold even the Plus-sized iPhones, and can rotate to show the screen in either portrait or landscape.
Alternatively, this air vent mount from Spigen uses a magnetic system to hold your iPhone, which is less fiddly than a grip system but a little less secure for bigger devices. And if you don’t want to cover those vents but have an unused CD player in the car, then this magnetic mount from Automobio will do the trick, slotting directly into a CD tray.
Assuming hands-free calls while driving are legal in your area, it’s great to be able to chat in the car without having to look at anything or touch anything. If set up right, it can feel more or less like talking to someone in the passenger seat!
Of course, the easiest way to go about this is to use one of the iPhone mounts mentioned above to dock your device in a good location, and then use Siri to initiate phone calls. (Make sure you have “Hey Siri” activated in Settings.) However, you’ll still need to manually tap the speakerphone icon once the call is picked up, which isn’t always safe or convenient while in the car. Another issue is volume and clarity: iPhone speakers only go so loud, and on a busy freeway it can be less than ideal to talk this way. One solution is to buy a hands-free car kit.
The Jabra Freeway kit is a good solution: its audio messages and voice control let you answer and initiate calls with zero taps, while the virtual surround sound and two noise suppressing microphones are a big improvement on the iPhone’s standard speakers and mic. It automatically turns on and connects to your device when you get in the car, and you can play music through it too.
If you’re an Apple Music subscriber, it’s worth taking advantage of Siri’s excellent integration with the service. You can ask Siri to play or pause songs without touching anything or requiring you to look at anything. And it also knows a lot about music – don’t forget you can ask Siri to start playing your favorite band, or a pre-made playlist, or something broader like “the best punk music from the 1970s.”
If you have an easy way to plug your iPhone into your car stereo, then perfect. But if you have an older car or lack the necessary cables to connect, it might be worth picking up a cheap audio transmitter like this one from TeckNet. It plugs straight into the power point in your car, connects to your iPhone via bluetooth and then transmits an FM signal that you can tune the car radio to. It’s a very easy alternative to upgrading your car.
If you don’t use Apple Music, this limits your voice control options – but there are some great “car-friendly” apps around to make navigating media safe and simple so you barely have to look at what you’re doing. Which brings us to our final section…
Many modern cars come with CarPlay, which is a great way to access the benefits of iOS from the driving seat. It automatically connects to your iPhone and offers a custom version of iOS for the car, complete with massive buttons for easy use without being too distracting. But if you don’t have CarPlay installed in your car, you can approximate the experience with apps.
As suggested in our full roundup of great apps for driving, Open Road is our favorite way to use your iPhone in the car. iCarMode is a decent choice, too. Both offer large buttons with shortcuts to commonly used features. We like them best for their music-playing abilities, but these apps are all-in-one solutions for navigation and calls, too. In terms of maps, they’re not as good as the navigation services discussed earlier, but for a one-stop shop this is a great way to make the most of your device in the car.
Time for a spin
Phew! Once you’ve kitted out your car with the latest drive-friendly apps, you might be tempted to go for a tire-burning spin around the block. If you’re in the mood to throw safety out the window and put your pedal to the metal, get your adrenaline pumping with a high-speed iPhone racer like Asphalt 8 or Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. It’s a good way to wind down and the graphics on these games are so impressive you might forget you’re not in a real-life Apple Car just yet!