What are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto?

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are designed to allow you to stay connected with your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.
CarsGuide

29 May 2017 • 14 min read

It wasn't that long ago that having a CD stacker in your car was considered high-tech, when the thought of switching seamlessly from Eminem to Green Day, with U2 and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers thrown in to the mix, had you jumping into the driver's seat at even the sniff of an opportunity.

Rapidly changing technology has brought with it shining new toys which is reflected in the homes in which we live, the jobs we do and the cars we choose to drive. And of course in our mobile phones, which have quickly become an extension of how we communicate in all aspects of our lives.

Such is our dependence on our phones that we can't be parted from them, even whilst driving. And being distracted by a text while in control of a three tonne vehicle can never be a good thing.

Enter Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, designed to allow you to stay connected with your world with your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

That's great, but what exactly is it?

Put simply, they are third-party apps that mimic the functions of your phone and run on your car's computer interface. The idea is to access your favourite music, make calls and answer texts by using voice commands instead of your hands.

The Android Auto home screen. The Android Auto home screen.

Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto have been around since the end of 2014 but it is only in the last year, with most manufacturers integrating them into new cars, that they have truly come into their own.

The Apple CarPlay home screen. The Apple CarPlay home screen.

What do you need?

Well, cars need to be able to support the systems in the first place. As mentioned above, most cars that are less than two years old either have capacity or can have their software upgraded to be compatible. There are after-market systems that will allow some older cars to also run with the cool kids.

You need an iPhone (5 and up) to access CarPlay and an Android device for Android Auto. Pretty self explanatory, but you just never know...

How do you get started?

For CarPlay, you plug your iPhone into the car using a USB cable, and viola, there it is - the face of your phone on your car's multimedia screen but with a select few apps. You will recognise the icons for Phone, Music, Maps, Messages, Now Playing, Podcasts and Audio. They are big and bright and hard to miss. None of these icons can be removed but you can add a small number of apps like Spotify and Pandora.

Android Auto takes a couple more steps. You need to download the app first, then sync your phone with the car, but that is usually not a tricky process. Rather than icons, the screen is a list of the activities in play at the time of use, so the music you are listening to, recent calls and messages and perhaps the place you are navigating to. There is a tab bar at the bottom which features Navigation, Calls and Messages, Home Screen, Music and Audio and Exit.

Do they work on telepathy?

Yes, if the voices in your head count. 

Both interfaces encourage voice commands with CarPlay using 'Siri' to do your bidding and Android Auto using 'Google Now'. You have to press the voice command button or microphone on your steering wheel to offer up your wishes, although in CarPlay you can just say "Hey Siri" to get her going. Of course, you can use manual commands but the systems do prompt you to verbalise your needs instead. 

What can they do for you?

Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto can replicate in the car the functions you most use on your phone when you are not driving. You can use them to make calls, listen to messages, read, answer and send texts and to listen to your favourite music and playlists.

Apple CarPlay map screen. Apple CarPlay map screen.

You can also use Apple maps (CarPlay) or Google maps for directions which is handy in cars that don't have built-in sat nav or to find the nearest service station or shopping centre.

Android Auto map screen. Android Auto map screen.

 Are there any major differences?

Aside from the home screen it is a case of trying to achieve the same goal in different ways.

Both will lower the sound of the music when giving navigation instructions and pop the command on the top of the screen if you are in a music app for example. Both are adept at making calls and reading texts although Siri and I do tend to have differing views on pronunciation.

Android Auto uses Google Maps which gets a tick from me as I find those maps more reliable and user friendly. It will highlight changing traffic conditions ahead and offer alternate routes and you can also use the pinch function to easily zoom in and out. 

Android Auto's music screen. Android Auto's music screen.

But Apple CarPlay does better with giving you access to your music than Google does with Android Auto. You can call up your full music collection and browse by song, artist, playlist, etc, while in Android Auto, although you can play and pause music from the home screen, you can't browse your collection and are restricted to playlists and the queue. 

Apple CarPlay's music screen. Apple CarPlay's music screen.

Both interfaces have sporadic problems with Spotify, but that's the fault of the app itself. 

Which one is better?

Neither is perfect and in the end both accomplish the same thing. It simply comes down to whether you are an Apple or Android user. I like the functionality and ordered approach of Apple products whilst you may prefer the delights of Android. Whatever they may be.

Do you think Apple CarPlay is better than Android Auto? Share your thoughts in the comments below.