Features and Navigation
Apple’s CarPlay is rather linear in its setup: Nothing is further from a couple taps at most. The screen is scrollable. Its organization is uncluttered and Spartan. On the surface, this appears simplistic, but where mid-drive navigation is concerned, it’s a boon.
The Android Auto also incorporates Google Now. This is a lightweight take on a dashboard app A.I. It’s an information stream that self-updates and provides data relevant to current and recent utility and searches. A search for the nearest In-N-Out Burger may prompt Google Now to flash several possible routes to locations nearest the vehicle’s current position. It does this, of course, with: Google Maps!
All of Google Maps’ familiar features are there: where you are, where you’re going, how to get there, live traffic updates, and hours of operation for a business.
CarPlay’s AppleMaps app is also in tow. It fulfills its purpose adequately and plays well with Siri. It just seems more people favor Google Maps, however the trend seems to be changing. It should be noted straight away that neither Android Auto nor CarPlay will allow download and installation of a free third party software navigator, like Scout.
Messaging and Phone Calls
Simplicity is key to CarPlay’s messaging, which uses Apple’s internal messaging and no other. Notifications instantly alert the user to any iMessage or text. Siri’s vocal dictation can be responded to likewise. This does mean that if potential communications rely on apps other than CarPlay, like Skype, the driver won’t be able to legally reply to them until the car is parked — safety first!
Android Auto is more versatile, if more complex. It supports over ten services included Skype, ICQ (remember that?), Kik, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, and so on. It’s practically App Central at Android Auto, but don’t get too carried away with talking and messaging, especially while motoring. Thankfully, instant messaging requires a very low level of concentration. Third-party messages are handled identically to SMS. Text converts to speech for easy relay, which is much safer than reading them one word at a time while on the road. Tap the voice control and vocally enter your message after you speak “Reply”.
Audio and Music Streaming
Android Auto and CarPlay don’t lack for apps when it comes to streaming audio. In-car audiotainment is as natural as switching on the television in the house. Along with music and live talk, the advent of audiobooks and the popularity of podcasting only add to the relevancy of enjoying audio content on the highway.
The menu of available third-party streaming audio apps is an ocean unto itself where both CarPlay and Android Auto are concerned. The difference is that each has its own to support. Obviously, CarPlay comes with Podcasts and the ubiquitous iTunes. Android Auto sports Google Play. Both systems are compatible with the likes of iHeart Radio, Stitcher, Spotify and Umano, with Pandora being only recently supported on Android Auto. That’s more audio indulgence than most drivers can wiggle an earlobe at.
Apple’s CarPlay boasts one other not-so-minor thing. It has over a dozen officially supported apps, whereas Android Auto’s has fewer than ten. Both operating systems will allow third-party developers to configure their software for either platform. So, while the range of supported apps begins to swell, the overall significance of CarPlay’s advantage remains to be seen.
Voice Command and Search
While both technologies are relatively new, Siri and Google Now match each other blow for proverbial blow. Siri is already a part of pop culture and needs no introduction. Google Now’s voice app is also a powerful piece of software. Both infotainment systems enable the user to call, text and request navigation, down to the nearest stop and turn, by voice alone. Appointment setting, scheduling, emailing, web searches and even answers to basic geographic trivia are functions handled proficiently by both platforms. Voice-wise, neither really has the advantage over the other.
Compatibility on a Mutual Plane
Now comes the ever-important topic of phones and receivers and compatibility. In the case of the CarPlay, which is made by Apple, the 30-pin connector on the back of the iPhone clinches it: that includes the iPhone models 5, 5C, 5S, 6 and 6 Plus. As long as the iPhone runs the newest iOS version, things will connect smoothly.
On the flipside, incompatibility warnings hit users who wanted to interface Android Auto with the Samsung Galaxy or LG G3 phones. There were also instances of the Nexus, made by Google, freezing up or simply being unresponsive. Google also clarified that their Android Lollipop device is fully compatible with the Auto’s OS.
With a couple exceptions, carmakers assert their support for both platforms. The exceptions are Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and BMW, who say they will only support CarPlay. There’s no specific reason for this apart from a case of Apple bias. All other makes, from Volkswagen to Toyota to Hyundai, appear to fully support both Android Auto and CarPlay.
Both also already have a solid aftermarket presence, so shoppers and scroungers won’t be coming up empty, either. Brands like Pioneer, JVC and the very reputable Alpine quickly jumped into the fray with their receivers. Prices vary, but it looks like CarPlay has the upper hand.
Functionality is the order of the day. CarPlay and Android Auto deliver that in spades. Where preferences matter, it all boils down to the user’s. It’s the literal equivalent of “Would you like French fries or potato skins with your order?” — two different things, the same result. Neither really has the upper hand.
While both OS platforms offer many of the services, they don’t overlap completely. They certainly don’t overlap fully where layout and modality figure. CarPlay will likely appeal to those who elect a simpler, more Spartan configuration — less frills, the same amount of comfort. The trade-off is fewer add-ons. Android Auto lays more choices out, but in lieu of impressionistic images, there are more corners, more hard details to navigate. More options are present, but there’s more clutter on the desk. Some people like that, and some don’t.
Guest article written by: Matthew Young is a Boston based freelance writer. As an aspiring automotive journalist looking to make a name for myself in the industry, he is passionate about covering anything on 4 wheels. When Matthew is not busy writing about cars or new emerging tech, he usually spends time fiddling with his camera and learning a thing or two about photography. You can tweet him @mattbeardyoung
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