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In-car multimedia systems explained | Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink

Apple CarPlay

The newest apps let you safely drive the information superhighway.

In-car entertainment used to revolve around roaming the dial on the radio. Now it has emerged as the new automotive battleground, as car brands team up with technology providers to gain an edge on the opposition.

Here's a guide to the emerging world of in-car entertainment.

Pairing

The first rule is to pair your phone before you play. It only takes five minutes and you only need to do it once.

After that your phone will reconnect automatically, provided you leave Bluetooth turned on.

There's no sense risking a hefty fine, not to mention demerit points, if you're caught on the phone.

What is Bluetooth?

Bluetooth is a wireless technology developed for exchanging data over short distances, about 10 metres in the case of your phone, using the 2.4GHz radio band.

Technology is evolving faster than car makers can keep pace

It was invented by the Swedish company Ericsson in 1994 as a wireless alternative to data cables.

The latest version 4.2 introduced in December, 2014, can connect several devices at once, overcoming earlier problems with synchronisation.

Audio streaming

In most cases pairing your phone means you are also able to play music stored on your phone over the car's audio, as if it were an iPod.

In fact, there's a school of thought that the display screen in your car will eventually simply become a mirror for your mobile device.

Technology is evolving faster than car makers can keep pace so it makes sense for them to use smartphone hook-ups rather than develop their own tech.

Apple and Android

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are increasingly finding their way into new cars, particularly mainstream brands, because they are relatively cost effective ways of matching features usually found in higher end models.

Touchscreen and button-controlled head units are supported but the emphasis is on hands-free operation because it's safer

Android Auto is a standard developed by Google that allows mobile devices running the Lollipop operating system to be operated through the head unit in your car's dash.

It provides drivers with control over such things as navigation, music playback, text messages and internet searches. Touchscreen and button-controlled head units are supported but the emphasis is on hands-free operation because it's safer.

Supported apps include Google Maps, Google Play Music, MLB at Bat, Spotify, Songza, Stitcher, iHeart Radio and TuneIn.

As with Android Auto, CarPlay provides access to Apple apps such as Phone, Music, Apple Maps, iMessage, iBooks, and Podcasts, as well as third-party apps such as iHeartRadio, At Bat, Spotify, CBS Radio, Rdio, Overcast, Audiobooks.com and Audible.

Before you sign up, it is important to be aware that you need a phone with a decent data plan to take full advantage of these services. The jury is out on just how much data they actually use.

Apps

Most cars can provide some sort of hook up to music apps, allowing you to stream the latest tracks via the car audio. Pandora and Spotify are the best known internet-based music apps, streaming music and finding tracks based on your tastes.

Spotify is the European equivalent of Pandora and offers music and video streaming, as well as podcasts.

There are other entertainment apps, including Stitcher, a news and information app that also carries podcasts. Users can "stitch" together a personalised list of their favourite shows or podcasts.

Aha is a cloud-based platform operated by Harman that has access to more than 100,000 broadcasts from around the world, including BBC and CNN. It also has downloads of free audiobooks. Aha can read out the latest tweets in a Twitter timeline and Facebook news feed entries. It also lets users "like" entries or post audio messages using the Shout function.

TuneIn streams audio from more than 100,000 radio networks worldwide. Topics include sports, news, talk and music. More than four million podcasts are also available for streaming.

Would the choice of multimedia system sway you when buying a car? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.