Apple CarPlay tested

25 February 2015
 by 
, News Corp Australia network

Siri might pass muster as a casual acquaintance but nothing puts a relationship to the test like a 2000km road trip with Apple CarPlay.

And after driving from Melbourne to Brisbane with Siri as a sidekick, it seems CarPlay doesn't yet live up to the Mae West test. When it's good, it's very, very good. But when it's bad, well, it's just bad.

Tech analyst Gartner predicts there will be 250 million internet-connected cars on the road in the next five years, with Apple and Google taking their traditional battle to the dashboard with CarPlay and Android Auto.

Some car makers have committed to shipping with Apple's CarPlay (BMW, Ford, Mitsubishi, Subaru, and Toyota), some have committed to Android Auto (Honda, Audi, Jeep, and Nissan), and some have committed to both.

You find yourself speaking to your car in a loud clear voice, saying, 'Hey Siri, I need petrol," or listening as Siri reads your text messages

So while your next new car might come fitted with a plug-and-play smartphone system, in the meantime you can try CarPlay with a unit such as the Pioneer AVIC-F60DAB.

The unit has two home screens. One is the Pioneer display that gives you access to its navigation system, FM and digital radio, and has inputs for dual reversing cameras.

The other is the Apple CarPlay that shows the limited apps that currently make up Apple's car display.

While you can link your phone to the Pioneer unit using Bluetooth, to use CarPlay you need to plug your phone in to a USB port that can be installed in the glove box or console.

What does CarPlay offer that another car unit doesn't? Siri is, in part, the answer. It means you can operate your phone with voice controls beyond just answering calls.

With CarPlay, you find yourself speaking to your car in a loud clear voice, saying, 'Hey Siri, I need petrol," or listening as Siri reads your text messages.

For Siri to get you from A to B, you need to use Apple Maps. That's handy because you can search for a destination even before you get in a car.

The downside is that Apple Maps, although far improved, is not perfect. In Canberra, it was supposed to direct us to a particular bike hire business but instead directed us to an apparently random spot on the Australian National University campus.

But all GPS navigation systems have problems. Google Maps also got us lost when looking for a windscreen replacement firm, and the Pioneer navigation system, at one point, couldn't locate the highway.

CarPlay doesn't make a long road trip shorter but it can, in some ways, make it easier

Your iPhone and CarPlay work as connected screens. When CarPlay is showing a route on a map, the app on your iPhone shows step-by-step directions.

Siri is good at responding to direct questions.

We used it to find the nearest petrol station and a Thai restaurant, all without the need to take our hands off the wheel. When Siri does stuff up, perhaps we shouldn't shoot the messenger but wonder about the information she is reading. Four hours after leaving Melbourne, we asked Siri for the nearest Maccas. Siri suggested a Melbourne location that differed notably to the forthcoming giant billboard promising a Golden Arches in 10 minutes.

CarPlay doesn't make a long road trip shorter but it can, in some ways, make it easier.

And instead of someone asking you if you're there yet, with Siri you're the ones asking the questions hands free.

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