GM Says Ditching Apple CarPlay Reduces Distractions. Except It Doesn't

The Blazer EV had me more tempted to pick up my phone than I had been in a long time.

Chevrolet Blazer CarPlay Chevrolet Blazer CarPlay

A few days ago, a General Motors representative told Motor Trend that one of the reasons the automaker was going to stop using Apple CarPlay and Android Auto was to quell driver distraction. Tim Babbitt, GM's head of product for infotainment development, told the magazine that smartphone mirroring systems occasionally glitch, encouraging drivers to fiddle with their devices instead of using the less distracting infotainment system.

That’s a reasonable-sounding argument, one of many behind GM’s move away from CarPlay and Android Auto. And there is some evidence to back up that thinking. A 2020 study by UK road safety charity IAM Roadsmart found that using on-screen smartphone mirroring was more dangerous than texting manually and driving while high or drunk at the legal limit. Seriously. Using voice prompts reduced distraction somewhat, but only past texting. The charity found impaired driving safer, a data-based conclusion that sounds wrong to me. But I can only counter with anecdotal evidence, like this 2009 story appearing in Car and Driver.

For those reasons and more, GM is phasing out Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in favor of a built-in Google interface, borrowing the tech giant’s apps to use in the vehicle itself. The driver can download Spotify or Tidal from the Play Store, for example, to access their own library of music. There are also charging apps for various EV networks, and the built-in Google Maps function provides range-based navigation and suggested charging stops along the route. The ecosystem is pretty comprehensive.

The issue, apart from widespread consumer frustration at the idea, is that it doesn’t prevent distraction, especially for Apple users. As I learned in my first drive of the Blazer EV – the first GM product to adhere to the new world order – the system has some big limitations, despite the Google Assistant’s ability to send and receive calls and texts on my iPhone. To the system’s credit, I could still activate Siri on my Bluetooth-connected phone by holding down on the voice command button, allowing me to dictate calendar items and the like.

Most consumers are better at using their phones than they are even the best infotainment systems, and putting that familiarity front and center leads to reduced distraction.

But accessing those same functions via the infotainment system is impossible, meaning if you’re the kind of person who puts addresses in your events and reminders on your to-do list, it’ll be hard to find that content without picking up your phone. Ditto Apple Music and Podcasts, neither of which are compatible with Google Automotive. So if you want to cue up the next episode or find a particular album, you’ve got to either pull over or give in to the temptation of distracted driving.

That’s the problem Apple CarPlay and Android Auto were initially conceived to solve in the first place. Most consumers are better at using their phones than they are even the best infotainment systems, and putting that familiarity front and center leads to reduced distraction. But while GM’s Google-based system is far more intuitive to use than its previous – and still pretty good – MyLink and IntelliLink infotainment, it doesn’t integrate enough functions into the experience to prevent drivers from picking up their phones.

Admittedly, most of these issues are limited to Apple iOS users. But that one ecosystem occupies 54.0 percent of all mobile phone users in the US – a ratio that’s been getting more skewed since Apple overtook Android in 2020 – and it’s a little short-sighted of GM to expect iPhone users to adopt non-endemic platforms wholesale.

And that’s without taking into consideration the very valid argument that any “infotainment” is a distraction in and of itself, rather than a convenience. The aforementioned IAM study doesn’t take into account using a built-in navigation system, which I suspect would be about as distracting as smartphone mirroring since it requires similar voice prompts and tactile inputs.

I will acknowledge that my rabid use of Siri to plan my errand route is probably more distracting than simply sitting in my parked car for 30 seconds and organizing everything myself before setting out. But I don’t live in that ideal world, and when I have CarPlay at my disposal, at least I’m able to carry out some of those tasks with both hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

UPDATE: GM sent me the following statement in response to the Motor Trend article sourced above.

We wanted to reach out to clarify that comments about GM's position on phone projection were misrepresented in previous articles 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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