Simplicity in design. That’s what has made Apple the powerhouse it is today. Things just work. Not every product lives up to this lofty ideal (don’t get me started on the Apple Watch), but many of them do, including the iPhone, the MacBook, and the iPad.
One of the somewhat overlooked product segments where Apple has played a big role recently is with CarPlay, the syncing technology it provides to automakers like Ford and GM. When you connect your iPhone using a USB cable, you see a series of icons on the car display. You can quickly select from your music library, activate Siri, and check your text messages by voice.
Recently, I tested CarPlay in a small sport utility vehicle, the redesigned 2017 Chevy Trax. This nimble compact SUV, similar to the Honda CR-V, has a base price of $21,000. It’s designed to fit into small spaces, like the parking spot I found at Barnes and Noble and in my own garage.
I’ve tested CarPlay before, but not with quite so many passengers.
I took three people on a spin around the Twin Cities, demonstrating all of the features so they could give me their impressions. None of them knew anything about CarPlay, but they are all iPhone users. They didn’t realize you could talk to Siri and play an artist by speaking the name. In many cars over the past 10 years or so, that doesn’t always work. You say “Coldplay” and the car hears something completely different. What makes CarPlay and Siri so effective in this particular vehicle is that it’s more of an entry-level vehicle — Chevy makes no bones about that. At $21,000, it’s not supposed to be a luxury SUV. That means you do hear road noise.
Yet, in multiple tests all day, Siri never missed a command. I asked about destinations several times, and the car understood me perfectly every time. I also asked about a place to eat for lunch (Green Mill’s pizza is the best) and had no problems. When I had a passenger in the backseat try it, asking about directions back to an office, it also worked.
In many ways, accuracy is a safety issue. When a car can’t understand you, it get frustrating and you get distracted. When you know it will work, you keep your eyes facing forward, hands on the wheel. You punch a button on the steering wheel (long press to activate Siri) and it works without any complications.
Everyone liked the easy nav as well. During one trip, we were able to play music off my iPhone 7 Plus and could still hear the turn prompts easily. One tap on the 7-inch screen, new for this model year, and the voice guidance stopped so we could use visual cues.
I had no trouble browsing my music (including recently additions), listening to my text messages, replying to them by voice, and even streaming Pandora from my phone. CarPlay worked so well it made the Trax more enjoyable to drive and even safer during my day trip. For a lower-priced vehicle, it made an even bigger impact in terms of making technology easier to use.