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Pioneer just put Siri in the passenger seat

Pioneer and Apple
Pioneer and Apple

It’s a bold move to use the San Francisco bay and a world class restaurant with an open bar as the backdrop to any event that wants to wow. Pioneer wasn’t afraid of distractions grabbing away journalists attention as they announced a semi-exclusive partnership with Apple. This event marked only the third time in history that Apple’s newest special something, CarPlay, has been demonstrated to media. Pioneer brought in for a first look at what’s next for the home, auto, and pro DJ audio bohemouth. The company is pushing CarPlay integration “for the vehicle you already own”. Pioneer + CarPlay promises to be the look and feel of a luxury car’s stock infotainment interface without the limitations or price tag of a stock system.

Originally announced at the Geneva auto show with a select few OEM partners, Apple’s CarPlay has started it’s young life as a luxury for those who might afford the best. Upgrading your Ferrari on a whim just isn’t in the cards for most of us unfortunately. The general public has been forced to admire from a far to date, but it was inevitable that Apple would find a way to bring the masses into the fold. Pioneer and one other partner will allow you, me, and the guy down the street to bring the latest in tech on the go into your latest vehicle; whatever that may be.

The seeds of CarPlay are already integrated into all current iPhone 5s, 5c, and 5 devices with iOS 7.1 installed. Pioneer will officially start selling and upgrading it’s NEX line to include CarPlay early this summer; that’s weeks and not months from today. The company is currently in the final stages of tuning the software and existing owners of a NEX system will see their firmware updates available through USB in the very near future.

The software is clearly dominated by Apple’s tightly controlled design language. The only real presence of Pioneer through software while in CarPlay are a few shortcuts to the NEX interface itself. The background is a fixed black and the icons for music, maps, phone, etc. are not repositionable. Apple continues to take a “we know what’s best” approach to a user’s experience with their products. The familiar Apple “square in a circle” home button makes a rare software appearance in the bottom left corner of the interface. This was closest to the driver on the US model car that I saw a demo in, but you can toggle the home button and a few status indicators to the right for appropriate vehicles or if you just want to give control to whoever’s in the passenger seat. The dynamic status indicators are for your phone’s cellular signal, the current time, and even Wi-Fi. It’s not that strange, but I did have a bit of a chuckle when the Prius that we were demoing in was pulling in a Wi-Fi signal from the nearby restaurant that hosted the demo event. It’s the age we live in, but Wi-Fi in a car still seems like a faraway dream.

There’s nothing new to report about hardware. Pioneer featured the NEX line at CES early this year and everything is still as reported. A capacitive touch screen at the top of the range, screen sizes ranging from 6.1 to 7 inches, built-in navigation, and mirrorlink. The entry level 4000 model and the top of the line 7000 and 8000 models have a similar “chin” of physical control buttons compared to the standalone AppRadio line. The 5000 and 6000 mid range models move the buttons to the left hand side closest to the US driver, and bring the CD/DVD slot to the front of the unit rather than hidden behind the motorized screen.

Backwards compatibility was an emphasis when it came to CarPlay and Pioneer partnering up. How far backwards is enough? As usual, a question like that holds a different answer should you ask the company versus the consumer. While CarPlay will come quickly to Pioneer’s very freshly minted NEX line, the future is a bit more murky for Pioneer’s existing iPhone compatible decks. There are hardware requirements that Apple demands for a performance befitting their brand. The NEX units include dual core processors and on board ram designed to deliver an experience that products like Pioneer’s AppRadio line apparently can’t match. The likely success of CarPlay might eventually yield a CarPlay “lite” experience, but for now, start planning an upgrade if you want Siri by your side during rush hour.

I’ll be working with Pioneer on a standalone review of the 8000NEX system as soon as the CarPlay update is released to the world. Stay fixed on the site for an in depth look at a huge step forward in our ever-connected world.

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