Future Tech: Car Infotainment

We are currently in the middle of the smartphone revolution. Every year, the latest and greatest smartphone comes out with better cameras, better screens, better graphics, better battery life (sometimes), and better performance. We are used to devices that are fast, smooth, and responsive.

Unfortunately, car infotainment systems have not matched the performance we expect from our mobile devices. They are often slow, clunky, unresponsive, and just downright unintuitive. What you have is automobile makers attempting to create software and doing a poor job at it. To be fair, not every automaker is necessarily guilty of horrible infotainment software. Hyundai and Kia usually have pretty quick and responsive systems. Ford’s MyFord Touch interface is NOTORIOUS for being slow and annoying despite having some pretty cool features. The new Sync 3 system switches from Microsoft’s Windows Embedded Automobile to Blackberry’s QNX and looks to be much more responsive and fast. The infotainment system in the new Mazda 3 is pretty good and luxury car makers like Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz usually make decent systems. However, in the age of smartphones, more people are more apt to using their phones for music and navigation (no car navigation system can match up to Google Maps). Streaming media is growing exponentially with services like Spotify, Tidal, Google Play Music, and most recently Apple Music. There are apps like TuneIn which allows you to listen to any radio station you want regardless of location. Navigation apps like Google Maps, Apple Maps, Waze, and Nokia HERE generally do a much better job of navigating and displaying points of interests (POI). Unfortunately, managing your music and navigation while driving isn’t exactly the safest thing to do. Therefore Apple and Google have come with a solution that allows you to marry the fluidity and familiarity of Android and iOS with your car’s infotainment system. Apple has CarPlay and Google has Android Auto.

Android Auto CarPlay

Both CarPlay and Android Auto are basically the same as how the function. They run as apps on car’s infotainment system but the backend processing is done on the phone so everything feels snappy and consistent (for the most part). The interfaces for each one are immediately familiar to those who have iPhones or Android phones. Android Auto in particular is fully of Google’s Material Design language that was introduced in Android 5.0 “Lolipop”. All of the essentials are here: navigation, music, phone, and messages. If you’re an Android user, you have full access to the excellent Google Maps including POI searches. CarPlay users are able to use the much improved Apple Maps. Along with the native music and text messaging apps, third party developers are able to create apps that work for each platform. For example, you can use media streaming apps like Pandora and Spotify. There are a few caveats though. Third party developers have to restricted to how the app looks and feel and must conform to a certain standard that ensures safety. Other caveats to Android Auto and CarPlay include not being able to respond to texts or create new text messages using the keyboard while the car is moving. Entering in destinations in navigations is not allowed while not in park. On the flip side, both platforms emphasize using voice control with Siri on CarPlay and Google Now on Android Auto. For the most part, both voice control systems seem to work pretty well.

The overall goal is to maximize safety while still allowing the driver to enjoy their favorite media and navigation. The problem is that it seems to border on overreaction. For example, if you have a passenger, they’re not allowed to do anything such as text entry while the car is moving. Still, the implementation is still lightyears ahead of what most car infotainment systems can do now. CarPlay and Android Auto are very much in their infancy and will require a few more years for people to really figure out how to make the most of each platform. Just like in 2007 and 2008 when the iPhone and Android started to blow up, people had to figure out how exactly a smartphone was going to function and how users would respond to it.

For now though, the initial impressions have been promising and hopefully some of those caveats may be relaxed (i.e. letting passengers enter text while the car is in motion) in later updates. As far as what cars are able to use CarPlay and Android Auto, so far only the 2015 Hyundai Sonata is currently able to use it. Most of the other automakers are implementing it in the 2016 model years. Click here for a list of auto manufacturers who are implementing CarPlay and/or Android Auto. For you DYIers out there, aftermarket companies like Pioneer already have head units you can install in your car if you don’t feel like buying a new car. For reviews and in depth looks at CarPlay and Android Auto, see the links below:

The Verge Android Auto Video Review

Ars Technica Android Auto Written Review

Digital Trends CarPlay Video Review

Tech Radar CarPlay Written Review

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