While neither has marketed its own car yet, dueling tech giants Apple and Google elbowed their way into the automotive industry with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Both project some degree of the smartphone’s home screen onto the screen in your car’s dash, and both offer the ability to manage basic phone features hands-free. Regardless of whether it’s Android or Apple, the connectivity benefits are clear. They both bring features (including navigation and a growing list of third-party apps) to vehicles that wouldn’t otherwise have them.
More and more automakers are adding Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility to their cars; even Toyota is finally jumping on the bandwagon. Here’s how these two systems are similar, and how they’re different.
How they’re similar
In many ways, the two systems reach the same destination, but how they get there is a bit different. Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto project a simplified version of a smartphone interface onto the in-dash screens of newer vehicles. The interfaces include apps that run from the phone’s operating system and offer some degree of hands-free calls and text messaging.
Maps and music are also default inclusions in both systems, though the flavors of each vary between Apple and Google products. CarPlay supports the use of Google Maps in addition to the built-in Apple Maps, but Apple Maps won’t work on Android Auto. Both systems also support the use of third-party apps for music and other functionality. Multiple podcast and music apps are supported by both, like Spotify, Stitcher, and Pandora.
Connections for both systems work very similarly. The most basic connections require that the smartphone has a direct USB connection to the vehicle, but some of the newest vehicles support a wireless connection. Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto can be used with a wireless connection over Bluetooth, but there are a limited number of vehicles that are compatible and only the newest devices are able to connect.
How they’re different
It’s true that Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android are closer now in functionality than they’ve ever been, but there are still some key differences to keep in mind. Apple’s ecosystem is more closely guarded than Google’s, which in part means that CarPlay only works with iPhones, just like iOS. CarPlay works with the iPhone 5 and newer models, as long as they’re running the latest software versions and have a functioning lightning port. Android, on the other hand, runs on a wide variety of devices that range from budget to extravagant. That makes things a little more confusing for Android users, but the good news is that Android Auto will work with any device that can run at least Android 5.0 Lollipop. Google recommends that the device have Android 6.0, but it’s not required.
There’s also the matter of Google Assistant vs. Apple’s Siri. Though both do roughly the same things, Google Assistant tends to be more useful in the information it can deliver and the variety of commands it recognizes. In-vehicle operation isn’t all that different in most cases, however, as both can start songs, call or text someone and control basic system functionality.
Where you land on the spectrum between the two systems will depend completely on the type of phone you prefer using. Both systems do a good job at their intended purposes, which is to offer enough smartphone functionality to be convenient without distracting too much from driving (they’re still distracting — a recent study found using CarPlay is more distracting than driving drunk). If you’ve got one or the other brand of smartphone, there’s no reason to switch for use in your vehicle. Either system will get the job done. Just be sure you’re saving some attention for the road ahead.
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