We take Apple CarPlay and Android Auto out to Starbucks

Smartphone-friendly infotainment systems show promise but still have some quirks

Published: June 15, 2015 06:00 AM

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Wouldn't it be nice if your car's infotainment system was as full-featured and easy-to-use as your phone? That's the appeal of Apple's CarPlay and Android Auto, which promise to bring familiar interfaces to your car's dashboard. Director of Auto Testing Jake Fisher and Director of Content Development Glenn Derene go out to Starbucks in a Volkswagen Jetta equipped with an aftermarket Pioneer stereo that's compatible with both technologies. Think of it as "Product Testers in a Jetta Getting Coffee."

Their spin shows that both interfaces have promise. Using the simplified onscreen displays and voice commands is less distracting than picking up and using your phone - but that's not the same as being distraction-free. Cloud-based points-of-interest search soundly trounces the dated databases found in built-in or portable navigation systems. And voice-activated texting proves to be simple with each system.

Shortcomings aren't deal breakers, but they highlight the infancy of these systems. Each restricts you to a relatively small selection of car-friendly apps. For example, Android Auto lets you use the much-loved Google Maps, but that's out of the cards for CarPlay. Waze users will have to go cold turkey, or keep on using their phone as before. Going back and forth between smartphone-based functions (navigation, phone, music) and built-in car functions (AM/FM/satellite radio) requires popping back in and out of various interfaces.

Ultimately, neither of these systems proves to be the Holy Grail for phone integration, yet. This is just the first iteration, and each system can be updated, just like your smartphone. When those updates come, Jake and Glenn just might have to go out together for another cup of joe.

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Tom Mutchler

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