The term “infotainment,” despite being a marketing portmanteau that makes our eyes roll, does neatly sum up the increasing variety of human-machine interfaces that dominates today’s dashboards. Now, Silicon Valley has leapt into the infotainment fray with technology that promises to simplify the often contentious relationship between man and modern machine.
New phone-mirroring software from Apple and Google beam their mobile operating systems—redesigned with fewer apps for the car—from your phone to the vehicle’s central display. Automakers are rushing to adopt these phone-integration systems, dubbed Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, both to appear hip and to keep drivers’ hands on steering wheels where they belong. Having sampled both phone-mirroring solutions, we can report the following:
|Android Auto||Apple CarPlay|
|BUILT-IN APPS||Phone, Music, Google Maps, Hangouts||Phone, Music, Apple Maps, Messages, Podcasts, iBooks|
|MUST-HAVE APPS||Google Maps, Google Now||Spotify, Messages|
|APPS WE WISH WERE COMPATIBLE||Google Docs, Waze||Google Maps, Waze|
|VOICE ACTIVATION||Yes, via Google||Yes, via Siri|
|WEATHER UPDATES||Yes, via Google and visible tile||Yes, via SirI|
|Yes, the Android Auto app||No|
Any technology that takes more phones out of drivers’ hands is good. But both of these systems reduce distraction by reducing usefulness. As much as they promise phone mirroring, they don’t really work like your phone. The only key functions, for example, that allow touch-screen inputs for swiping, scrolling, and button selection outside of the main-screen icons are in the music apps (song and playlist libraries) and phone apps (contacts, recent calls, etc.). And though both CarPlay and Android Auto provide a familiar visual context for voice-to-text or navigation instructions, on the whole, neither feels especially beneficial.
Most new cars already offer voice-to-text or voice commands, and some even offer Apple Siri integration. That leaves the ability to beam navigation to the car’s screen (provided the car lacks factory nav) as the most notable reason to use CarPlay or Android Auto. Even then, Google Maps is strictly compatible with Android Auto while CarPlay is stuck with the crummier Apple Maps.
Waze and its critical cop-locating feature isn’t compatible with either, so you’ll still be staring at your phone to use this popular driver’s tool. For this reason, and for Android’s integration of the creepy-but-useful Google Now predictive software—it “learns” your life patterns before displaying suggested routes home, weather and traffic updates, calendar reminders, etc.—we’re giving the nod to Android Auto. By: caranddriver