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How Apple’s CarPlay could save the car stereo industry

Read our full Apple CarPlay review.

Car stereo salesmen and installers around the country are giddy with excitement because Apple’s CarPlay in-car infotainment system will have a big presence in the aftermarket car stereo industry. The Nikkei Asian Review reports that Alpine is making car stereo head units for between $500 – $700 that will run the iOS-like system Apple unveiled last month, and Macrumors added Clarion to the list of CarPlay supporters. Even Pioneer is getting into the game with support said to be coming to existing car stereo models in its NEX line ($700 – $1400) via firmware update, according to Twice. Given Apple’s wildly supportive fan base, its likely that a lot of aftermarket CarPlay units are about to fly off stereo shop shelves.

CarPlay — which is currently only available in new models from Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo (though it is expected to expand to other manufacturers soon) — will allow drivers to control music and certain phone functions with either Siri or built-in infotainment controls. Phone calls, text messages, and voice mails can all be handled through Siri, which will operate through verbal prompting. Apple maps is also part of CarPlay, so Siri will offer turn-by-turn directions in conjunction with a map displayed on the car’s center-stack screen. The system is expected to be able to anticipate potential destinations and routes, based on prior trips, contacts, and email information. Of course, an iPhone’s music catalog can be navigated using the system, as can iTunes Radio, iHeartRadio, and Spotify.

CarPlay coming to aftermarket stereo units could bring back what Apple indirectly stole from the industry going back as far as 2006. Once the “iPod generation” started buying cars, aftermarket car stereo sales took a dive. Younger drivers of the time preferred to use FM modulators to play music over vacant FM radio stations rather than spend the extra money getting a hard line installed. Audio quality became much less of a concern, taking a back seat to convenience.

More recently, the availability of Bluetooth wireless streaming and the integration of USB ports in pre-installed car stereos made playing music from iPhones through the car’s stock system easier than ever, giving drivers even less incentive to replace the system already in their car, despite the questionable audio quality of these factory infotainment systems.

As a result, the car stereo industry has seen steady decline. In 2012, an NPD report showed that the car audio & electronics aftermarket saw a 14 percent drop in dollar volume in 2012, 9% of which was due to declining head unit sales. In 2013, total sales from January through November slipped another 5 percent vs. prior year.

But CarPlay stands to change the car stereo landscape in a big way, potentially turning those losses around. The seamless integration of iOS in the car is a compelling feature, and one that will likely bring new customers into car stereo retail and installation outlets. Now, if Android gets into car audio, then we’ll be talking about a revolution, and a whole new battleground for drivers’ attention.

(Image credits: Pioneer)