CarPlay and Android Auto: What You Need to Know

by Sandra Henshaw - , Last Updated on July 24, 2015, Android

Want to know how much cooler your car is going to get? Then you’re going to want to read more about CarPlay and Android Auto, the latest in tech from Apple and Android. Luckily, we’re here to give you the low down, so here’s all you need to know about both CarPlay and Android Auto!

The Basics

Basically, these two systems are more or less identical. CarPlay is an Apple product, whilst Android Auto is, rather obviously, an Android/Google product. The idea behind both systems is that by integrating mobile technology into a vehicle drivers will be both safer and more efficient. Current functionality is a little limited, but the potential here is amazing.

How Do They Work?

When you get into your car you plug your phone into a designated USB port, and then your phone is mirrored onto a console in your vehicle. Some car makers are already making customised vehicles for both systems (such as the newly released Hyundai Sonata), with a built in console on the steering wheel. More auto producers look to be following suit, and of course, there’s always the possibility of adding a console into an existing vehicle.

Once your phone is connected, you’ll automatically be connected via Bluetooth for calls and messaging, as well as online via your phone’s 3G or 4G network. Both systems are designed to be used entirely hands free, and are completely voice controlled, meaning they’re both safe and legal. CarPlay will be directed by Apple’s famous Siri, whilst Android Auto uses Google’s Google Now system to accept voice input.

What Can I Do With Them?

As we said, at the moment functionality is a little limited, though still quite cool. You can call hands free, and dictate text messages as well. Of course you can use map apps to get directions or voiced navigation. But because both systems are using what amounts to a digital assistant, you can also get information. By asking a question such as “where’s the closest pizza place” Siri or Google Now will combine their map apps, your position and their online search capabilities to give you a list of neighbourhood pizza joints. You choose the one you want, and then your assistant will begin giving you directions to get there. Sweet, right?

You can also use either Siri or Google Now to control things such as your music, as long as that music is being played through your phone (though it will be piped into the car’s speakers, naturally). Plus, plenty of app makers are working on Android Auto and CarPlay compatible systems (including apps like Skype, ICQ and Spotify).

What Will I Be Able to Do With Them?

Both of these systems are very new, with Android Auto only being announced in 2014, which means they’re just getting off the ground. However, their potential is pretty huge. Having a talking map is kind of cool, and being able to control all kinds of things with your voice is awesome, but there is the possibility of more kinds of integration.

Most modern cars are computer controlled anyway, and getting a mobile system to communicate with a car’s computer system could have all kinds of benefits. Your CarPlay might be able to tell you when an engine problem is about to occur, for example. Or maybe your Android Auto will let you know that you’re getting awfully close to the car in front of you. Using these systems to enhance vehicle safety is a goal of both Apple and Google.

The Bad News

These systems aren’t yet perfect, of course, and there are a few downsides. Neither will work if your phone loses its signal or runs out of battery, for example. Voice recognition technology, whilst much improved, still sometimes leaves a little to be desired, with both Siri and Google Now making mistakes when translating voice to text. Buying a new vehicle that’s specifically designed to be used with CarPlay of Android Auto will probably be unrealistic for most of us, though by the time you’re ready to buy a new car the chances are that this kind of technology is going to be default. For some, a screen on the steering wheel is going to be a distraction, at least at first.

But all of these problems can be overcome. The truth of the matter is that mobile phone use is still a huge culprit when it comes to car accidents, despite laws that have prohibited the use of mobiles in cars. Having a digital assistant should improve this, as should having a built in console rather than looking at a small phone screen to get directions. And if car computer systems become integrated into CarPlay or Android Auto there are even greater safety benefit possibilities.

Having touch screens and consoles in cars is not a new thing. Several vehicle manufacturers have been putting screens on dashboards for some years now. But car makers are good at making cars. Mobile makers, on the other hand, are good at making screens, and they’re good at making operating systems that are intuitive and easy to use on those screens. And that means that surely it’s only natural that Apple and Google should be the ones that car manufacturers turn to as they look to automate more and more of their vehicle systems?

Ten years ago all of this might have sounded like science fiction. But you can literally walk into a car showroom, at least in the States, right now and buy a car that’s optimised for a mobile driving experience. If you’re not ready to give up driving for one of Google’s self-driven cars, or just can’t wait long enough for that to become an affordable possibility, then either CarPlay or Android Auto will give you better efficiency, more speed, and a whole bunch of cool functionalities that will be sure to improve your driving experience.