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Hands-on with Porsche’s new CarPlay app – the best big auto UX we’ve seen

6 months ago 149

Porsche has released an update to its My Porsche app, allowing greater control of vehicle functions from within CarPlay – including wireless CarPlay support.

We got a chance to test out some of its features on a 2024 Cayenne, and it’s the first time we’ve felt an Apple-like experience from software made by a traditional automaker.

We’re still waiting for the next-gen CarPlay experience which Apple announced last year, which promises greater integration with vehicle functions than today’s version of CarPlay.

In the meantime, though, Porsche has taken it upon itself to build its own app which offers the best of both worlds – a snappy, CarPlay-like user interface, along with control of some vehicle functions which were heretofore unavailable through Apple’s software.

It did this by building a CarPlay module into its My Porsche app, which can access car functions like climate control, seat massagers, and ambient lighting, along with the standard expectations of music, navigation, and so on. This is called an “automaker app,” and while this capability has been around for a while, no automakers really bothered to do it. SEAT gave it a try, but the effort didn’t develop very far.

The app update has been out for about a week now, but currently is only available on the new 2024 Porsche Cayenne. Porsche plans to roll it out to other models soon™, but we don’t know yet exactly when it’s coming (and it doesn’t sound like it will be backwards-compatible with earlier model years). We got to spend a little time playing around with it in a new Cayenne, and came away impressed.

Hands-on with the new My Porsche CarPlay app

The initial setup for the system could be slightly easier, requiring taps into several submenus on both the phone and car and scanning a QR code, but the whole thing only took about a minute, and you only have to do it once anyway:

There are three main screens, with one focused on music and one focused on climate controls by default. But there are also customizable “cards” which you can configure with swipeable informational widgets.

You can add cards that live update and show you weather conditions, let you access and see the status of your HomeKit devices, or give you directions to the nearest coffee shop, parking lot or scenic view. You can also have the car show you the closest gas station if you’re in some sort of uncouth fossil-burner (hey, I’m typically an Electrek writer here, I had to take at least one swipe at gas).

The My Porsche app works with Siri, and Siri integration is quite easy to set up as well – we set it up with a simple voice command, without having to open the shortcuts app. Here we are using it to change the ambient lighting:

You can also activate a “Relax” mode which turns on the seat massagers (if equipped) and plays nice ambient forest sounds through the speakers (and if you’re in an EV or PHEV model, the peace won’t be ruined by a rumbling gas engi…. okay, sorry, Electrek is leaking in again).

The app is still in its early stages, and more features and tweaks will come over time. But doesn’t feel like it’s incomplete, or a beta test. While we just had a short demo and did encounter one or two behaviors that could be improved, its far and away better than any traditional automotive user interface. It just looks and feels nice.

CarPlay has become so popular – Apple recently said it’s installed in 98% of new cars in the US (the remainder, basically, being Teslas) – because infotainment systems provided by big automakers are, frankly, usually bad. They’re laggy, often disorganized and/or full of confusing submenus, and usually have quite dated interface design. And this seems to be true of pretty much all of them, save the tech industry upstarts.

When we briefly hopped back into Porsche’s “standard” Porsche Communications Management (PCM) infotainment system the difference is night and day. Buttons have dated click/pop sound effects attached, there is a noticeable yet inconsistent delay in reacting to touch inputs or bringing up a keyboard (this took the better part of a second), and certain UI elements just look low-resolution or pixelated.

In short, the default system feels like a lot of other automotive infotainment systems: not very good. This is why everyone uses CarPlay.

But Porsche’s new My Porsche app update is nothing like any of that. It actually feels like an Apple product. The interface is clean, with big rounded buttons, nicely-rendered text, and snappy response to touch and swipe gestures (you can see this in the first video above).

And it was all built by a relatively small team within Porsche. Impressive nimbleness for a traditional automaker.

Although, we do wish that it was applicable to previous model years, at least cars in the recent past. Sure, that’s not how the car industry usually works, but this is a software update to a phone app, it would be nice to allow compatibility to the last few model years of cars. Maybe there’s a technical limitation in there, but it doesn’t seem like it should be impossible (and there is at least one competing brand that does release software updates to add features to old cars…).

Porsche says that it plans to add more features over time, with significant software updates every few months. Our Porsche rep reiterated many times that Porsche listens to customer feedback about these sorts of things, so if you’ve got some ideas, get in touch with Porsche.

What about next-gen CarPlay?

But Porsche also at WWDC last year that it will use Apple’s next-gen CarPlay, which sounds like it will overlap with many of the capabilities of this My Porsche app. That next-gen update is supposed to roll out later this year, so there is a period of time where its rollout will overlap with Porsche’s plans to update this app and roll it out to more vehicles.

Porsche said it probably wont immediately adopt next-gen CarPlay, and will take some time to see what capabilities it has and what the reaction is from customers. For the next couple years, the focus is on the My Porsche app.

But from our short demo, we still think those coming years look good. This app is a great first effort from Porsche and we can’t wait to see where it goes from here.

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