Hey GM: If You Want to Beat Apple, Give People the Buttons CarPlay Can’t

Automakers will just keep losing to phone interfaces as long as they continue to avoid buttons.

byJosé Rodríguez Jr|
View from inside the cabin of the 2024 Chevrolet Blazer EV RS
View from inside the cabin of the 2024 Chevrolet Blazer EV RS. Chevrolet


General Motors' big bet to jettison Apple CarPlay and Android Auto from its cars hasn't yet paid off—especially not after problems with its new Ultifi infotainment platform forced a two-month stop sale of the 2024 Chevy Blazer EV. Still, GM adamantly believes ditching CarPlay is the right move, and that's partially to do with the automaker's deteriorating relationship with Apple, as Bloomberg reported this week. The power struggle over the logo on your car's biggest screen is nothing new of course, but in retrospect, maybe manufacturers wouldn't stand to lose the war if they didn't give tech companies a big LCD battleground to beat them on.

As long as automakers insist on putting features behind a touchscreen, they will always be vying for control against companies that run circles around them when it comes to infotainment. The industry has only itself to blame for the prevalence of CarPlay, which has basically become the default interface for millions of drivers. Legacy manufacturers haven't done themselves any favors by removing physical controls for functions that people expect and want buttons for, instead burying these features deep inside touchscreen menus—the kind Apple and Google have considerably more experience optimizing.

How CarPlay more or less looks, as we know it today. Porsche

Yet GM seems nevertheless shocked and indignant that Apple has taken residence on prime real estate in their cabins, even though they were the ones who put the screens there and handed Big Tech the keys years ago. In one exchange that Bloomberg describes, Apple and GM leaders go tit for tat arguing whose skills are more valuable:

In a meeting with Greg Joswiak, now Apple’s senior vice president for worldwide marketing, one exec tried to impress upon him GM’s deep automotive expertise as if to suggest Apple was out of its depth, emphasizing the complexity of cars and how they can require four years to develop, according to a person familiar with the interaction, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the private meeting. Joswiak replied, “How long do you think it takes us to build an iPhone?”


Prior to the advent of CarPlay, most automakers were too careless or unprepared (or both) to develop decent infotainment, and Apple arrived with a quick, easy solution to the problem they were having.

In CarPlay's early days, Apple approached automakers with the lure of access to services like iMessage, Apple (and eventually Google) Maps, as well as music streaming services. That just about covers most use cases for infotainment in a car; people mostly want a simple way to control their stereo and follow navigation behind the wheel, and Apple gave them that. It also helped CarPlay's user interface was an extension of the iPhone's, which folks were already familiar with. Poking around CarPlay was just like thumbing around your phone. Whether you enjoy that or not, you already know how it works.

This was in contrast to the clumsy interfaces that Cadillac, Lexus, and BMW—just to name a few—stuck to for years across their lineups. Now, about a decade after the release of CarPlay, Apple's quick and easy solution has become a problem that GM and others are struggling to overcome. CarPlay has become so invaluable to buyers that Apple data from 2022 suggested 79 percent of car shoppers in the U.S. would only consider a new vehicle if it came with CarPlay.

Apple is now leveraging that popularity to gain more control over modern cars. The latest version of CarPlay "syncs with onboard sensors to manage vehicle settings, climate control and even oil and gas gauges," per Bloomberg. It seeks access to everything from seat heating to the speedometer. Carmakers don't like this, obviously, and it's what led GM to cut out CarPlay wholesale. Mercedes CEO Ola Källenius agrees, recently telling The Verge that while basic phone projection as we know it today is fine, "to give up the whole cockpit head unit—in our case, a passenger screen—and everything to somebody else, the answer is no."

An Apple render of how next-generation CarPlay looks when it's powering multiple screens, including the gauge cluster. Apple

But even before the latest updates, Apple was already shrugging off suggestions for CarPlay and planning to expand its role in the cabin, as an anonymous GM executive told Bloomberg: "One of the Apple engineers said, ‘Look, our system is better. Why can’t you just do what we say to do?"

This is classic Apple. As any tech enthusiast would tell you, Apple's MO is improving upon some idea that typically already exists, then proceeding to dominate that space. And Apple has always been good at growing a (walled) garden from the ashes of its rivals. GM can try all it wants; it can hire as many former Apple and Amazon software developers, but its native infotainment won't depose CarPlay, the interface that works like your phone's does.

At best, GM can try to woo a few thousand drivers who are amenable to other interfaces besides those made by the tech giants. It's not impossible—they'll likely hold back some valuable info, like navigation with charge state and battery preconditioning in mind, to make their solution look more clever. Then again, once owners realize that GM, too, is developing its platform in pursuit of new revenue streams (read: subscriptions), maybe they'll go back to the devil they know.

Or GM could stick to what it does best, and build its way out of this mess by decentralizing control of its cars, spreading it out across buttons and other inputs where Apple is unwilling or unable to follow. It's what consumers and safety advocates obviously want, and the industry knows it. If carmakers don't want to cede further influence over their vehicles, maybe all they have to do is stop making touchscreens the be-all, end-all.

Car TechGM NewsInfotainmentNews by Brand