Ever go to check your phone while waiting for five minutes while your factory navigation tries to search for your destination? What about that feeling of anxiety you get when you receive a new text message but since you’re driving you don’t want to fumble around for your phone to see what it says? Enter Google’s connected car solution, Android Auto.
Android Auto is an application that allows you to use your phone with a variety of 2015 and newer models and aftermarket head units as a source for navigation, messaging, phone calls as well as playing music.
As long as your phone is running Android Lollipop 5.0 all you have to do is connect your phone to an Android Auto compatible head unit via micro USB-to-USB cable (Update: You can also use Android Auto as a standalone app as well). In the future there will be options to connect wirelessly via Wi-Fi, but this feature is not currently available. Once connected the screen on your phone will be disabled to prevent use while driving and Android Auto will launch on your vehicles head unit.
Once connected, Android Auto will launch on top of your head unit’s existing operating system, it does not replace the current system so if you want to access something from the head unit that Android Auto does not control all you need to do is disconnect your phone.
Upon launching you will be shown suggested destinations based on your Google Map history, current weather, missed calls or text messages and currently playing music. From there you can either use the touch screen to navigate the various menus and functions or for hands free use just touch the mic button on the touchscreen to initiate voice commands.
The four basic functions you can control are navigation, messaging, phone calls and music/news/entertainment.
Google Maps is one of the best navigation apps out there and in most cases will always be more accurate and up to date then any OEM navigation unit. How you use Google Maps to navigate is exactly how you would on your phone, also unlike Apple CarPlay you can pinch to zoom in on the map. While not currently available at the time of writing, Waze will also be coming to Android Auto in the near future.
When you receive a text message it will not be displayed on the screen but you can have it read out loud for you. To reply or send a new text message all you have to do is tap the microphone icon on the touchscreen and then say your message out loud and it will be converted into text for you. Because Google tries to have a more open platform you can also use some popular messaging apps such as Skype, WhatsApp and Kik.
Pretty straight forward, using a Bluetooth connection you can place and receive phone calls using the touchscreen or go hands with voice command.
Google created Android Auto to ultimately make driving safer by making sure you keep your eyes on the road and not distracted by your phone. Because of this not all of the apps you have on your phone will work while using Android Auto. However, there are over 50 Android Auto compatible apps on the Google Play store to choose from. The majority of these apps are music/entertainment apps and messaging, services so whether you want to stream the latest music on Spotify and Pandora or send a message using Skype there are plenty of options.
With Apple having announced CarPlay in 2015 we’ve seen it expand to a point that it comes as a standard feature from almost every major automotive manufacturer across over 100 different models. Apple’s ingenious connected-car application is designed to enable iPhone features on your car’s infotainment system allowing the use of automotive specific iPhone apps via existing touchscreen or button controls.
Now you can have access to iPhone features without the added distraction of actually using your iPhone. While the list of cars coming standard with CarPlay connectivity is steadily increasing, a host of aftermarket companies also offer CarPlay in their head units for those with older model cars looking to upgrade and join the CarPlay connected crowd.
To use the application in a CarPlay enabled vehicle, you simply connect your iPhone via a Lightning cable to the vehicle’s infotainment system’s USB port. Once connected, your iPhone screen will be locked to prevent use while driving and the CarPlay app will automatically open. The interface of CarPlay mimics that of your home screen for added familiarity while user controls will depend on each specific vehicle. Some manufacturers prefer physical buttons rather than touchscreen and CarPlay adapts seamlessly to either method.
It is important to note that CarPlay does not replace your factory entertainment system, it is simply an app that runs on top of your current system, either OEM or aftermarket. You will still be able to exit out of the app to access features such as your factory radio, satellite radio, CD, etc. Once connected to CarPlay, you’ll find your apps such as Phone, Contacts, Messages, Music, Maps in a default set up on the Home screen in addition to all CarPlay compatible apps that are installed on your phone.
Navigation through your apps in CarPlay is the same as on your phone utilizing taps and swipes though you will not be able to pinch and zoom within CarPlay. With the upcoming iOS 10 update CarPlay users can now hide and rearrange apps on the Home screen, a feature that many have requested and has long been overdue.
When connected to CarPlay you’ll be able to use your phone to call, text, use the turn-by-turn navigation in the Maps app and listen to music with a variety of apps. CarPlay however will not control car functions such as temperature and emergency controls. The main method of interaction with CarPlay is Siri, which allows hands-free control, but you also have the option to use the onscreen icons as well.
Most people are guilty of texting and driving, but with CarPlay it makes it much easier, not to mention a lot safer. When receiving text messages they will not be displayed on your car’s screen but instead Siri will prompt you if you want the message read out loud. The improved dictation of Siri also allows for an improved experience with sending or replying to text messages.
With Apple’s recent announcement of allowing iOS developers to access Siri, you can look forward to Siri support in messaging apps such as WhatsApp or WeChat in the future. Making a phone call is also preferably Siri driven in that a dial pad is not immediately present when the app opens but instead prompted by voice to say the name of those you want to call. You will still have access to your Favorites, Recents, Contacts, Dial Pad and Voicemail through a tap in the menu.
For those who chose to skip out on a factory based navigation unit, CarPlay will integrate the Apple Maps app onto your infotainment system allowing improved turn-by-turn navigation when in cellular coverage. A major benefit over any factory navigation is the hands free ability to ask Siri to search for nearby gas stations, restaurants, and local landmarks. Siri will also search for addresses from your emails, text messages, contacts and calendars. Many users find that the search results that are found through Apple Maps were significantly better than results found on out dated factory navigation units. Third party navigation apps such as Waze or Google Maps are currently not supported on CarPlay.
While the majority of apps you will find that currently works with CarPlay are music apps such as Apple Music, Pandora, Spotify, and IHeartRadio, you will find that certain sports apps such as MLB.com are also supported on CarPlay as well. A wide variety of Podcasts, News Radio apps, and Audio book apps do support CarPlay and many more are on the way. Manufacturers are also developing apps for CarPlay that will allow you to control more of your car’s features within CarPlay. For a full list of CarPlay compatible apps, simply search ‘CarPlay’ in the App Store.