Guide: All About Apple Car Play & Android Auto


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What is Apple car play?

It’s Apple’s factory-developed operating system for the infotainment screens that have become central to motoring life these days. Increasingly installed in new cars by a wide range of manufacturers, with CarPlay Apple aims to give iPhone users the best possible features and performance when connecting their smartphones to their car for driving. It does this by ‘mirroring’ key iPhone apps and features on the car’s own dashboard display and allowing you to control those features using the car’s touchscreen, steering wheel controls or voice recognition. On some models, wireless Apple CarPlay functionality is also now available so you can connect your phone to your car without a cable.

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As well as making phone calls, messaging and looking up contacts, CarPlay means you can access your Apple Music playlists and other music providers like Spotify, or navigate via Apple’s mapping system or using third-party services like Waze. Interestingly, and perhaps predictably given the big touchscreens and fantastic graphic capability of screens now fitted to many cars, lots of users search for CarPlay games… there aren’t any, due to equally predictable safety concerns!

The latest CarPlay upgrade

The biggest and most obvious change to CarPlay in iOS 13 is a new dashboard screen that’s configurable with your favourite apps. While previously you had to flip between apps on different screens to operate them, you can now see an apps menu alongside a navigation window on the left side of the screen, while the right side gives you audio controls and Siri suggestions based on navigation choices or apps you typically use while driving. This improved access to core features allows you to focus more on the road and less on the screen.

CarPlay also works with Apple’s AI assistant Siri, but while Siri operations used to take over the whole CarPlay screen, the latest update allows Siri to work while other features are still displayed – for instance you needn’t lose sight of your navigation screen when ‘asking Siri’.

The Apple Music CarPlay screen has also been overhauled, with the intention of making it easier to find your playlists and new music recommendations, as well as providing more emphasis on album cover imagery.

The latest CarPlay calendar feature now allows you to see dates in your diary and scroll through entries on screen, and there’s a new Light Mode screen theme that makes the CarPlay interface look less moody, and work better in bright ambient light.

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One other big advantage of the latest CarPlay upgrade is that it no longer freezes your phone when it’s hooked up to the car. You – or a passenger – can now scroll through iPhone features on the handset without interrupting the CarPlay interface and what’s displayed on the dashboard screen.

Very easy to connect Apple CarPlay

Using CarPlay is pretty effortless and it connects your iPhone (or iPad/iPod)to your car in an instant - simply plug it into the USB socket (although some car makers are now starting to offer wireless CarPlay connections), follow the brief on-screen instructions asking you to unlock your phone to permit CarPlay to access it, and you're ready to roll. And you only need to do this once - your iPhone will log the connection you've made to CarPlay on your car, so that the next time you connect, it will start working automatically.

When you connect CarPlay, the car's infotainment screen shows a menu of CarPlay-compatible apps on your iPhone. This includes pre-installed iPhone apps such as the Phone, Music, Maps, Messaging, Audiobooks and Podcasts, while third-party apps such as WhatsApp and radio players can also be accessed via the touchscreen, a car's multifunction steering wheel or via voice control.

This is far easier to do than trying to use your iPhone while driving, which of course is an offence that's punishable by a fine and points on your licence, because it's a major safety risk.

Apple Maps

One of the main highlights of CarPlay is its use of Apple Maps. Apple installs the Map app as standard on all iPhone and iPad devices, and as it's fully CarPlay compatible, it means you can have sat-nav in your car for the fraction of the cost of factory-fitted nav systems. It displays turn-by-turn directions on your car’s infotainment screen, and offers the full range of location search and destination functions that a conventional nav system offers. In fact, some carmakers are already dropping the option of sat-nav on some CarPlay-equipped cars, and it's likely that built-in sat-nav could become obsolete in a few years.

Apple Maps is able to suggest landmarks along a route, show predicted traffic levels and live traffic information when network coverage allows, and can also reroute you if necessary. The only downside to Apple Maps is that it relies on your iPhone's network coverage and data allowance or a wi-fi connection to update the map data when you're on the move. That means if you lose your signal for any length of time, you could be left with a dot on the screen representing you and your car, and a blank grid instead of a map of your surroundings.

Apple Siri

Not all cars come with voice control, but iPhones are fitted with the Siri voice assistant as standard, and this adds user-friendly touches when used with CarPlay. It works in conjunction with messaging apps and can read out text messages over the car's speakers. What's more, you can dictate messages to Siri to send to contacts. The effectiveness of this depends on how refined your car is, because background noise can hamper Siri's ability to transcribe what you say.

The other downside to messaging is that Siri cannot handle abbreviations, emojis and picture messages. Often it will read everything literally and describe emojis, which can sound a bit odd. You can also use Siri to navigate through your Music library, by selecting playlists, podcast and radio apps.

(with Inputs from Autoexpress)
 
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What is Android Auto?

For Apple users, the system is called CarPlay, while Google’s interpretation of in-car infotainment is Android Auto. It’s a piece of tech which connects your phone to the head unit in your car, so you will see a simplified version of your phone screen on the infotainment screen. You don’t have all of the functions to make it easier and safer to use while driving a car, but it still allows quick access to some apps and features such as navigation, music streaming, messages and phone calls.

Android Auto is not available on all new cars and some makers have made it a pricey option or are asking for a subscription fee – it’s the same with Apple CarPlay. But the number of cars that have it is growing all the time as customers are insisting on it. Some makers, such as Mitsubishi, are relying on the tech and have actually deleted the built-in navigation on some models knowing that customers prefer to use their connected smartphones instead.

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The biggest advantage of Android Auto is that the apps (and navigation maps) are updated regularly to embrace new developments and data. Even brand new roads are included in mapping and apps such as Waze can even warn of speed traps and potholes. The sat-nav systems also benefit from more accurate real time traffic updates.

As car manufacturers work on much slower product timelines than the personal electronics world, using your phone to power maps or music should mean drivers spend less time becoming infuriated with out-of-date infotainment systems.

Android Auto itself has also had an update, with a simplified layout featuring a navigation bar for turn-by-turn directions and a notification centre.

To use Android Auto, you need a smartphone which is running the Android operating system upgraded to Lollipop or above, which if you do, you will be able to use the streamlined user interface and collection of compatible apps.

The biggest difference is that the system has been developed with car use in mind, and as a result it is easier to use Android Auto while driving than faffing about with a phone that is in a cradle or stuck to the dash.

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Also, to help reduce frustration with missing buttons, Google’s speech recognition software allows you to take command of the majority of Android Auto features, again helping drivers use the software on the move. You can also use the car’s buttons to access features such as voice activation and track selection.

How much does Android Auto cost?
For the basic connection, nothing; it’s a free download from the Google Play store. But you need to remember that Android Auto is a data-heavy service; pretty much everything it does relies on some form of data connection, so it can be affected by dropouts in signal and will eat into the data allowance on your mobile phone contract.

In addition, while there are several excellent free apps that support Android Auto, you may find that some other services, including music streaming, are better if you pay for a subscription.

Android Auto is primarily designed for manufacturers’ built-in infotainment systems, but aftermarket head units from various companies including Pioneer, Sony and Kenwood support the technology.

Android Auto - how to connect
Connecting your phone to Android Auto is a similar process to hooking up through Bluetooth. Firstly, you should do it with the car stationary and in an area of phone coverage; the Android Auto app blocks configuration if you’re moving, and it needs to connect to Google to finalise the set-up.

That aside, it’s pretty easy. You load up the Android Auto app on your phone (a free download from the Google Play Store); then, with it running, you plug in the phone via USB, and go to your car’s Android Auto screen.

It’ll offer you the chance to connect a new device - again, similar to how Bluetooth set-up works - and when you select your smartphone, you’ll need to approve the ‘handshake’ in the Android Auto app on your device’s screen.

If this sounds complex, don’t worry; it’s something you should only have to do once, because the connection can happen automatically thereafter.

If your device is running Android Auto but you get a blank screen on your car’s infotainment system, it may need a software upgrade or not be compatible at all. Android Auto needs at least Android version 5.0 (‘Lollipop’) to run.

There’s an ever-increasing range of approved apps for Android Auto - and some of the early offerings already work particularly well.

Perhaps the most impressive is Google Maps, which brings detailed navigation and real-time traffic information to your car. The display is quick to respond, it constantly looks for quicker route options and best of all, you can just click a microphone button and say, ‘Navigate to’ any given destination and it’ll take you there. The recognition can be fooled by background tyre roar if you’re travelling along a particularly noisy stretch of road - but that aside, it’s uncannily accurate.

Because the system uses Google’s own data, it’s great at understanding commercial destinations instead of just streets and postcodes. And being Google, it also has access to your recent browsing and search history - so it’s possible to look for a future destination at your office desk or home laptop, jump into the car, hook up your phone and find it suggested as a possible route to you without even asking for it.

The real-time traffic information is based on Google’s other navigation users, so it’s considerably more reliable than manufacturers’ radio- and camera-based data. A two-hour route is usually accurate to within a couple of minutes, whereas a less connected nav system may predict as little as 45 minutes for the same journey.

The other main service of Android Auto is music streaming - including offerings by the three main subscription-based services: Google Play Music, Amazon Music and Spotify. We’ve tried Spotify with a premium account and it’s reasonably slick, showing album art and using Google’s cloud-based speech recognition to allow you to demand any track from the archive - regardless of whether it’s in your collection or not.

One negative point is that Google has been quite restrictive on the amount of ‘browsing’ you’re able to do - presumably for safety reasons. So even though your Spotify library may have 100 albums or artists, you’re only ever able to scroll through eight or 10 of them before you get a pop-up telling you to stop the car before you continue to browse. Apple’s CarPlay system - which offers many of Android Auto’s features on iOS devices - isn’t so strict.

Other apps are being launched on an almost weekly basis. WhatsApp and Skype are already compatible, allowing you to potentially use those services to make VOIP calls instead of Android Auto’s conventional smartphone system. And there are already at least a dozen eBooks and Podcast apps on offer - although you may need to use trial and error to find one with the right mix of content and a user-friendly interface.

Bizarrely, phone access is one of Android Auto’s weaker points. It’s basically sound, and it will read out texts and Google Hangouts messages to you and allow you to dictate replies - but it’s not much more comprehensive than a decent car-smartphone interface. At least the fact that it’s contained within Android Auto’s on-screen environment means that you don’t have to hop back out to the car’s own system to make a phone call; you do have to do this to switch radio stations or media if you’re not listening to music through an Android Auto streaming app.

(With inputs from Autoexpress)
 
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Android Auto gains updated Material Theme icons when navigating in Google Maps

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The rollout of the newer Material Theme icons for Android Auto has been long overdue but is now here when using Google Maps navigation in your motor vehicle.

You might be wondering what the heck we are talking about, but as originally spotted by the guys over at Android Police, when navigating using Google Maps, you’ll now see the slightly newer wireframe style icons rather than the filled icons for menu items.

It’s hardly the biggest UI change, but it will make your entire experience that bit more cohesive, which is what the Material Theme design guidelines were introduced to help enhance. As noted by Android Police, when you get directions to a location and start your journey, you’ll see the newer Material Theme icons in the Google Maps shortcut bar.

These shortcut options allow you to dive directly into Settings, Route Overview, Search Along Route, and view Destinations without having to really think about it. There is also an added overflow menu that gives you the option to share your journey with a contact should they want to know your ETA.

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We believe that avid Android Auto users should already be seeing the updated wireframe Material Theme icons already, as this appears to have had a relatively silent rollout across the board. It’s also worth noting that this doesn’t require a software update or an app upgrade, it looks as though this has come server-side, so you shouldn’t have to do anything to get the very minor visual improvement.

Credit: Google
 
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Apple CarPlay Receives Minor Updates & New EV Routing Feature


The 2020 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) was held on Monday and saw the company announce some major updates for its devices and operating systems. In addition to iOS 14, macOS Big Sur and watch OS7, the tech giant has announced updates for Apple CarPlay as well. Now, for those who were looking forward to a more dramatic update on the in-car infotainment system, you will have to wait a little longer. The latest update brings some minor, yet usable new features to CarPlay that users will appreciate.


Apple CarPlay now comes with custom wallpapers as a part of the update, while navigation now gets three new categories - parking, food ordering and EV Routing. The last feature is certainly a big plus for electric car users and is part of the update to Apple Maps under iOS 14. The new EV Routing feature for electric car owners will take into consideration your vehicle's range and will calculate the route taking into account the compatible charging points. Apple Maps also gets cycling as a new transport choice

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Google Maps Now Supports CarPlay Dashboard


Google has announced a slew of updates for its maps services on Apple's platforms - including support for CarPlay Dashboard and the Apple Watch. For the Apple Watch, this represents an about-turn for Google, while it doubles down on the ubiquity of Google Maps' cross-platform appeal. CarPlay Dashboard will enable users to have the turn-by-turn navigation interface appear alongside controls for music, podcasts, audiobooks amongst others. This is a more convenient interface as it allows users to have a map view in a large box on the left and the top right for turn-by-turn directions.

"In the CarPlay Dashboard, you can now switch or pause songs from your favourite media app, rewind or fast forward podcasts or audiobooks, or quickly check calendar appointments without ever leaving turn-by-turn navigation in Google Maps. The information is displayed in a split-screen view so you can get the information you need while keeping your focus on the road," said the Google Blog post penned by Alan Rogers and Ruben Lozano-Aguilera.

This was one of the top features of iOS 13 but was restricted to first-party applications like Apple Maps. With iOS 13.4, Apple opened up the feature to third-party apps which is why now we have it on even Google Maps. This also reinforces Google's commitment towards Apple's platforms - be it the iPhone, iPad, or Maps or Search on these platforms.

This feature is now available on all CarPlay supported vehicles globally.

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