Apple CarPlay vs Android Auto: What to choose?
Both car integration systems use smartphones for computing and rendering the operations, then sending the picture to the car display, which is basically an external touchscreen monitor. However, while Apple went for a proven choice of a grid of icons, Android Auto created a refreshingly interesting choice of a home screen with a notification dashboard and 5 tabbed sections in the bottom. This is the major design difference, which affects all the other functions.
Apple CarPlay – your “iOS for the car” choice.
Apple CarPlay has the same simplistic design of the grid of icons iOS users are fond of. However, adding additional apps results in pagination, which means there can be two and more pages with grids of 8 icons. To say even more, third party apps face certain pagination restrictions, meaning your favorite app might end up on the third page without the chance of being moved to the main page.
The status bar resides to the left, showing the current time, network connectivity level and the on-screen Home button. The icons are the focal points in Apple CarPlay – big, bright, easy to tap. The “three taps” philosophy is in work here, so 8 starting icons grouped in two rows of 4 allow reaching any app or feature with a couple of taps from the main screen.
Phone icon provides access to contacts, favorites, recent calls, keypad and voicemail. Music is the same old Apple Music all iOS fans are well familiar with. Messages holds all messages, can read the out loud and allows replying to or initiating new messages with a voice. Pressing and holding the voice command button (usually mounted on steering wheel) activates Siri with all its benefits.
Maps is the place for planning routes and navigating. Apple Maps are used, so no big changes here either. Podcasts, Audiobooks and all other native or third-party apps mostly duplicate the standard iPhone or iPad experience.
Android Auto – a creepy but useful self-learning system
While Apple CarPlay’s bet is on simplicity and convenience of access to the same old iPhone functions while driving a car, Android Auto has certain important differences with Android smartphones.
For example, the notification dashboard with 5 tabbed sections below (navigation, phone functions, home screen, audio, manufacturer apps) is actually a snapshot of what is going on right now. New notification cards appear and can be accessed directly from the dashboard. New call, incoming message or email, beginning of the favorite shows, possible traffic jams, preferred shopping locations and routes to them and a myriad of other notifications can appear on the screen. When there are few notifications of the same type (like 5 new replies to your FB post) – a little red circle with the number appears in the notification window. Thus, a quick glance helps you understand which areas demand more attention.
Google Music has somewhat limited functionality, as Android Auto does not let you browse your content library – you can select the playlist only. However, while being used by default, Google Music is not the only app supported for audio, so using other programs helps find the most convenient solution for enjoying music while driving.
Driving and navigation. It is the key feature of Android Auto. The (somewhat creepy) yet incredibly useful Google Now self-learning route prediction system analyzes your schedule, driving routine, calendar events, recent voicemail and messages – and suggests several destination points based on the data analyzed. While selecting the point itself is nothing new, having it chosen for you according to your daily routine or recent email is a whole other story.
Drawbacks of both solutions
Thus said, while both being helpful, none of the iOS and Android systems proposes something essential. Mostly duplicating the smartphone functions. Low tolerance for third-party apps is also a drawback, yet Android Auto supports much more of them as compared to Apple CarPlay. Accessing another key section of the app is also a bit easier with Android Auto. Voice command system integration (both with Siri and Google) is a great feature for relieving your hands from the phone – but does it relieve your head from driving?
A playlist or route can be chosen before driving off and are rarely adjusted mid-motion. However, answering the messages or listening to them aloud requires drawing some cognitive power and attention from controlling the traffic situation. This poses a potential threat, though it’s lower than typing on the phone while driving.
Thus said, both Google CarPlay and Android Auto are great systems, which are in their infancy now and did not hit the consumers with full power yet. Both systems have great potential and watching them evolve and compete with each other will be an interesting experience. However, from our point of view, route prediction and traffic jam notification system is way more useful than an ability to listen to the podcasts of the sports games on the move.