If you don’t like the idea of trying to figure out a new car’s potentially complex infotainment system, then there’s a simple bypass for owners of most smartphones. Nowadays, many car manufacturers offer Android Auto and Apple CarPlay on their vehicles – but what do these systems do, and which one is best for you? Here’s the lowdown on both.
The obvious answer to ‘which one is best for you?’ might well be ‘whichever one is compatible with your phone’. To that end, Android Auto is for all Android smartphones that run the operating system version 5.0 (or Lollipop) and later. This straight away gives you a far larger range of phones that will work with Android Auto than with Apple CarPlay, because phone makers such as Samsung, Sony, Google, Nokia, Moto, Huawei, LG and more all run Android software, whereas only Apple runs iOS.
There’s another bonus to Android Auto, as well, which is that – if you’re in an older car that doesn’t have its own infotainment screen on which to display the apps – then you can still run Auto on the screen of the smartphone itself, meaning it is portable into many more vehicles than the ones that actually support it with their own in-built version of the software.
To run Android Auto on a supporting car’s infotainment screen, you need a phone of the specification we’ve already outlined and a USB cable. Plug the phone in and it will ask you if you want to connect to Android Auto, and/or an Android Auto logo will be enabled on the car’s screen. Press it and a simplified display appears on the car’s screen, with various shortcut buttons across the bottom, that group available apps into navigation, communications, media and so on.
Android Auto supports both Google Maps and Waze, two of the most popular navigation apps going, and you can input destinations using the voice control of the car. It also allows you to send and receive text messages hands-free while driving, by again using voice commands. Finally, Android Auto has a wider range of supported apps than Apple CarPlay, including Pandora, Spotify, LibriVox, OverDrive, Messenger (Facebook) and Skype, among more.
Like Android Auto, generally the iPhone needs to be plugged into the car via a USB cable to work, although wireless connections are possible on some of the latest handsets. Apple CarPlay presents its available apps in a very familiar grid format on the main screen, with swipe movements allowing you to move through various sub-menus. This makes Apple CarPlay slightly easier and quicker, in terms of navigating between different apps that are supported.
Also like Android Auto, you can send and receive text messages on the move and enjoy your own satnav guidance, but this can only be provided by Apple Maps – and, once you’ve inputted directions to your destination, then you can’t use the ‘pinch’ technique with your fingers to zoom in and out of the map; you instead must use the ‘+/-‘ buttons that are shown on the screen.
Apple CarPlay can also only be used on vehicles with it fitted, as you cannot run the app on the iPhone itself – which limits its potential scope in comparison to Android Auto. There are also fewer apps overall that the system supports, although big-hitters like iTunes, Audible, Pandora, Spotify and more are available.
Which car companies can I get these systems on?
It depends. Android Auto is supported by more than 400 new vehicles on sale right now, while Apple CarPlay is supported by more than 300 vehicles. However, there are certain foibles to which companies have the rights to which software – so, for instance, Jaguar Land Rover vehicles don’t support either (yet… although some models are futureproofed for their addition in the coming months and years, via a software update), BMW only offers Apple CarPlay on its models (and not Android Auto) and Subaru doesn’t have any of its own in-car satnav, claiming that all its customers prefer to use their smartphones for mapping.
While your preference for one of these two systems will largely come down to your type of smartphone – we all know there’s a lot of tribalism as to whether you support Apple or Android – it’s fair to say that Android Auto is the better in-car app, at the moment. It’s available on more cars and more phones, and it can be run on the handset itself if the vehicle you’re in doesn’t have its own infotainment screen. It also offers better mapping choices, with Google Maps and Waze available. Apple CarPlay, meanwhile, requires at least an iPhone 5, while it will not support iPads either – and you have a limited range of apps to play with.
However, both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay do at least provide some peace of mind for busy car buyers, who don’t feel they have the time to learn a new in-vehicle infotainment system. Instead, you can just ‘throw’ your smartphone’s operating system onto the screen, and away you go.
Carzone - 15-Aug-2018