Is MINI Giving Apple’s CarPlay the Cold Shoulder?

Apple’s long awaited CarPlay is finally here and everyone’s favorite small car seems to be oblivious to it. Is that by design or was MINI caught flat-footed?

Given our conversations with MINI and BMW engineers over the past few years it’s clear to us that MINI and BMW are taking a wait and see approach with the technology integration. But it’s not due to BMW being caught off-gaurd. While it’s true that Apple has often been very very late to notify its partners about car related technology (Siri integration being a good example), our sources are telling us that Apple worked directly with automotive partners ahead of the CarPlay debut in Geneva earlier this spring . We also believe that BMW (and MINI given that they use the same iDrive system) has been testing its own integration of the system. However that’s not the only thing that BMW is testing deep within the labs of it’s Munich headquarters.

BMW has long believed that a controller based input (iDrive) is a much safer method than touch screen. Independent testing (and BMW’s own) has proved this out with touch screens requiring more of the brain’s processing power to be interfaced with – not something that’s particularly good while driving. Because of this research, BMW has maintained it’s iDrive approach since its introduction since 2001. But maintain doesn’t mean remain stagnant. Along the way BMW hasn’t been afraid to dramatically refine the system with the most recent updates being seen in new BMWs and the F56 MINI just this year. The most recent addition (as seen in the new F56 MINI) includes a multi-touch controller that allows for pinch and zoom along with hand-writing recognition.

Is it perfect? In our experience with the F56 system (and with similar BMW systems) the answer is a resounding no. But given what else is out there in the automotive landscape we’d call it one of the best in the marketplace.

That leads us to CarPlay. It’s a system that works both with touch-screens as well as controller based interfaces. And while we’ve only used it for a brief moment, the promise of a seamless integration into your iPhone’s music, phone and mapping apps is compelling.

But integrating all of that functionality into the existing system could get complicated. For one it’s basically an operating system within an operating system which creates additional complexity for drivers. That means that a driver has to learn an additional interaction language and interface while operating a very complex and consuming device in a combative world (i.e. a car in traffic).

So what about the future of CarPlay and the similar Android system within the MINI? We’d wager that BMW and MINI have prototypes of both working right now in their labs. And from our time using the Mercedes platform and CarPlay (which features a controller similar to iDrive albeit not as good) it could be a compelling addition to the MINI’s interface. But in our minds MINI is right to take their time integrating the system into what is already a very complex piece of technology.

But the really important question is what does the customer want? And for that we turn to you the MF reader. Would you like to see MINI embrace CarPlay and Android’s own similar system? Or should MINI control its system by strictly controlling what type of interfaces and third-party functionality be allowed in?