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Volvo to focus on value adds outside the infotainment system, will leave CarPlay alone

The future of CarPlay

The Volvo CEO says Apple CarPlay is a value to customers, and its vehicles should focus on making the overall driving experience better, not on revenue generated from infotainment clusters.

There's a trend among some vehicle manufacturers that is taking choice away from customers. Companies like GM and Tesla want users to have integrated experiences with the infotainment system, treating the vehicles almost like smartphones.

In an interview on The Verge's Decoder podcast, The Volvo CEO Jim Rowan spoke about the industry's shift to micro-transactions and monetization. He detailed how Volvo sees itself adapting different services to enhance the driving experience rather than ripping customer choice away.

Nilay Patel and Jim Rowan discuss the car industry, shifting to electric, charging networks, and more. However, we will focus on the portion about CarPlay and infotainment.

"You can either say, 'I'm going to provide a car that makes that a pleasurable, easy interface experience for you' or you're going to have a different operating system in the car than you have in your phone, and the phone is in people's hands much more often than they sit in the car," Rowan said about Volvo providing access to CarPlay and Android Auto. "The big difference is that you've got to be able to offer benefits through the application layer on the Android that's external to the car."

There was some confusion during the interview about Android in the vehicle versus Volvo OS. Simply put, customers can use a basic Android-run Volvo infotainment system, Android Auto, or CarPlay — similar to many modern infotainment systems.

CarPlay provides iPhone users easy access to their favorite apps
CarPlay provides iPhone users easy access to their favorite apps

That setup isn't going to change going forward. Instead, Volvo is going to focus on something called Volvo OS. A vehicle-wide operating system tuned to give customers more optionality and control through integrated services.

"While you're sitting in the car, that's fine, you're using Android Auto. You're listening to your music or whatever you're doing, fine," Rowan continues while explaining Volvo OS. "But what you really want the application layer to do with a smartphone is when you're not in the car, when I'm sharing my digital key with my friend because he wants to pick up my car from the stadium that I left there last night, or when I'm sharing my digital key with my kids, or when I'm offering insurance services to the customer."

The vehicle can provide users with services since new and upcoming Volvos have so many cameras and sensors. Providing insurance discounts due to safe driving is one, while another is having a tire-changing service for places that need snow tires.

"In Sweden, for example, you need to change your tires in the winter," Rowan explains, describing more of the Volvo OS concept. "I want to be sent a signal that says to me, 'Hey, listen, we're coming up on tire change season... Do you want us to come to your workplace, whip off the old tires, put on the winter tires, and take those summer tires away and store them for the next season?'"

Taking away CarPlay is taking away consumer choice
Taking away CarPlay is taking away consumer choice

Such a service goes beyond just serving the driver ads in a center console. It adds value to the vehicle and makes Volvo owners feel more connected to the car.

Nilay Patel points out this is a different direction from that of other vehicle manufacturers. Many want to monetize the central console, especially once full self-driving becomes more common. Companies like Netflix might serve ads before playing a show in these driving movie theaters.

At least, for now, the Volvo CEO doesn't see that as the path forward.

"I don't think it's a viable strategy," concludes Rowan. "I think we're going to stick to what we're really good at, and that is building really good, safe cars with fantastic connectivity experience for customers that allows them to enjoy the benefits, when we get to full AD, of whatever they want to do with that time that they've gained."

The full interview contains more detail about Volvo's future plans and technology implementations. We can only hope companies like Volvo can influence the car market, and not the other way around.