When Apple recently released its new phone operating system, iOS 13, I was overjoyed to learn that it also updated one of my favorite pieces of technology, Apple CarPlay.
For those of you unfamiliar with this widget, Apple CarPlay (and its cousin, Android Auto) basically hijacks any car's dash screen and turns it into a dumbed-down version of your phone. CarPlay is not an app—It’s already in your iPhone, like the new one I bought last month at the urging of my dear friend and personal tech advisor, Lance—but it does bring your favorite apps with it: plenty of mainline Apple stuff, but also the ones you rely on as everyday utilities, like Spotify, Waze, Google Maps.
As someone who writes about the automotive industry for a living, I drive approximately 100 new cars every year, mostly fancy sport and luxury vehicles. If you’ve found your way into one of these upscale rides recently, you’ll know that they now contain a dizzying array of technological capabilities, much of it cryptically embedded in a central “infotainment” screen.
These things differ wildly from manufacturer to manufacturer—knob, touchpad, touchscreen, touchknob, joystick, trackpad, voice command, hand gesture. It's curse for someone like me who is bitter, jaded, and generally dispirited by technology. I just want to drive the damn car, and listen to the new Brittany Howard or De La Noche album without needing a YouTube tutorial to adjust the treble.
Yes, it is “part of my job” to experiment with these various infotainment systems and report back about their cheap graphics, laggy activation, and garbage AI assistants. (And yes, I realize that most everyone doesn't have the same 100-cars-a-year gripes.) But my real issue is that car manufacturers haven’t glommed onto the reality that their systems are irrelevant. I use CarPlay for everything, in every car I get into, and if you aren't committed to wasting time in horrible menu structures or gasping at chrome-edged onscreen "buttons" teleported from 2011, you would, too. Whatever phone is in your pocket is already the most valuable, most efficient system for interacting with information in your world. You know it by heart—or, better yet when it comes to the driving at 75 miles per hour, by reflex.
Apple CarPlay is my balm. Instead of having to learn dozens of idiosyncratic (and often idiotic) systems, I can just tap, swipe, and pinch my way through familiar icons. The new version of CarPlay adds in some cool features—split screens that can show Waze and Spotify at once, and finally the ability to use the phone itself without the CarPlay interface disappearing. But the sweet, searing relief of the thing I use every single day always rings through. Because no matter how many coders and UX masterminds that car manufacturers throw at their in-car screens, they will never beat Apple or Google, because that is central to their mission. Nissan making a graphic user interface is like a greasy spoon diner putting uni sashimi on the menu.
My favorite feature of CarPlay is Siri. Let me channel my best PSA voice and state unequivocally that texting while driving is dumb. But that doesn’t stop people—and editors and PR people and (dammit) family—from texting me when I’m driving, demanding rapid responses. With CarPlay, a little silent alert flashes on the screen whenever I get a message, typically causing my boyfriend to say something snide like, “Looks like Lance is texting you again.” With a quick tap I can have Siri read the text aloud, and I can then dictate my response back to her. In order to get my message even partially correct, I have to speak to her like I'm reading a Western Union telegram from 1929. THAT WOULD BE AN AMAZING OPEN QUOTE ADVENTURE EXCLAMATION POINT CLOSE QUOTE.
Generously, CarPlay reads back the text I’ve crafted before sending it, so I can be sure that Siri got it all right, which never happens. Of course, there’s no way to edit just a small component of the message. If I want to fix one thing—replacing balls hip with bullshit, like I fucking said the first time—I have to record the entire message again. This is annoying. But it’s also great for killing a couple minutes on a banal two-hour upstate drive that I’ve done 10,000 times.
I’ve even taken to using CarPlay as a kind of creative scratch pad. Because I write about cars, and because I drive so much, I’m often struck by genius ideas for stories when I’m behind the wheel. (What if headlights could wink? Why are French cars so weird? What would a mohel drive?) So, even though none of my editors wants to receive a full-fledged pitch via text, and absolutely no one wants to receive a 200-word text, ever, I’ve taken to using CarPlay and Siri to text my brilliant ideas to my editors. [Editor's note: Please stop.]
This rarely works how I want it to, in part because I care about language and Siri has a way of turning my brilliant prose into chat salad. But sometimes I just go for it, knowing that, in our hideous and degraded world, a voice-to-text pitch that reads, “Lamp basting the wurst info maiming interred facial in hall of auto dome will give he and excuse me right something about Alexis,” will either pique my editor’s interest (“Who’s Alexis?”) or provide an excuse to clarify, and re-pitch properly, later, once I’m home. Try it yourself when you can. No one leaves you on read when they receive longform word soup. The curiosity is too powerful.
Of course, sometimes I just give up and pass the phone to my boyfriend and ask him if he can transcribe my dictation. That doesn’t always work out, either. He ignores my proffered pink phone. “Maybe you should call Lance and ask him to help you.”
A supercar for the weekend, a cush SUV for the family, and an S-Class for being driven to the office is nice—but nicer? All of it, now, at once, in a single set of wheels.
It’s everything we loved, hosted by Dan Levy, Schitt’s Creek star and first-ever guest Best Stuff finder.
Originally Appeared on GQ