Apple CarPlay and Android Auto Explained
Android Auto is not a robot from the new Star Wars movie. Apple CarPlay is not a game. Both are in fact responses from the two tech giants (Apple, obviously, and Google’s Android mobile phone software division) to the conflicting demands of people wanting to be able to use their phones, and that usage being dangerous when driving.
Many hundreds of new models and types of car now come with these software systems pre-installed. The good news is that it’s not restricted to high-end models anymore. A humble Kia or Hyundai is as likely to come with CarPlay or Android Auto as some ritzy German super-saloon. It’s worth remembering that not all versions of a particular make and model will come thus equipped and not in every country, so check carefully with your dealer before signing on the line if smartphone connectivity is important to you. You may also have to pay a (usually small) extra fee to have the system switched on and enabled.
Then you simply plug your phone into the USB port…
The idea of both systems is to bring your phone’s screen and some of its functionality onto the touchscreen in your car. Obviously not all apps on your phone are compatible as they’re too text-heavy, or would be too distracting. So, forget Facebook or Twitter or Candy Crush for now as we’d all just end up staring at our dashboards and the accident rates would just climb and climb.
Instead, CarPlay and Auto generally focus on the apps that are actually useful for driving. Music is one of the primary apps on both systems, and allows you search for songs, podcasts, audiobooks and playlists without lifting or looking at your phone. You can use the car’s touchscreen to do so, or in many cases use the voice-control functions to ask for a specific song, artist or album. Voice control is, as ever, a bit hit-and-miss in such situations, especially in a car where background noise levels are high, but they’re improving all the time. Both systems also incorporate Spotify so you can stream music as you drive, assuming you have a subscription, decent 3G or 4G reception and have a suitable data package with your mobile phone plan. Streaming radio services such as TuneIn Radio and iHeart Radio are also available, as are dedicated podcast services and Amazon’s Audible audiobook app.
Voice control also looks after making and receiving phone calls, which means no more poking around your phone dialling numbers and taking your eyes off the road. Simply press the Phone app icon in either system, say the name of the person you want to call, and hey presto you’re connected (your call experience may differ etc. etc…). True, some existing car infotainment systems could already do that, but the benefit of CarPlay and Auto is that they’re using your phone’s own software, so it’s already familiar with your contacts list and how you have things organised, so everything’s easier to find.
Text messaging can also be done, safely, using these systems and again it’s all thanks to voice control. Equally, again, that can be a bit hit-and-miss, but as long as you keep your messages short and simple, they should be OK and you always have the option to go back and re-speak your message before sending.
Android Auto now also comes with Skype, depending on availability, which is of course not about making video calls (don’t be silly…), but about making free voice-over-internet calls from your car. Handy.
Navigation is also part of both systems, and this means that you can now forego expensive built-in satnav systems and simply use the mapping app on your phone. It must be said that this hands a big advantage to Google’s Android Auto, which uses, of course, Google Maps for navigation. Apple relies on its own map system, which is improving, but which has some way to go to match the accuracy of Google.
So, what do you need to have all of this? Well, first you’ll need the right phone, which means either an Apple iPhone from the iPhone 5 or newer, or a phone running Google’s Android 5.0 Lollipop software or newer (Samsung and Sony, amongst others, can provide you with one of those). Then you’ll need a compatible car (have a look here for Apple: https://www.apple.com/uk/ios/carplay/available-models/ and here for Android: https://www.android.com/auto/) and then simply plug into the USB port and you’re off. Just please remember to always stay safe on the road, and only activate and use these systems when it’s safe to do so.