In our smartphone-addicted culture, car buyers are increasingly expecting deep integration of their most common used apps into their next car. So far, most factory infotainment systems haven’t lived up to their promises. Most are clunky, slow, and often buggy. But that is about to change.
Enter Silicon Valley: Apple’s CarPlay system and its Google counterpart, Android Auto, will soon bring their familiar smartphone screens and functionality, complete with all the intelligence and voice control technology, right to your dashboard.
Automakers are racing to integrate these systems, with brands vying to be first to market. Joining the fray, General Motors will roll out CarPlay across most of its 2016 lineup. Android Auto will also be available in a few entry-level models and will follow in more cars later in the year.
Rather than mirror the whole smartphone screen, CarPlay displays a few large icons for the apps you’re most likely to need on the road—a collection of music and podcast players, text-to-voice apps, maps, and contacts. Arguably, Siri voice commands are the best feature on the road. Paired to GM’s audio system, you can use Siri to program destinations, dial contacts, or dictate text messages on the road. CarPlay requires iOS 7.1 to operate and a lightning cable. Unfortunately, one of the most common navigation apps, Waze, won’t be part of it at this point
Mapping data and even audio streams—such as podcasts or Internet radio—come over your phone, rather than the car’s stereo unit. So it’s crucial to have an adequate data allotment on your cell-phone plan.
Android Auto works pretty much the same way. It needs Android Lollipop operating system.
We’ve sampled CarPlay and Android Auto in some aftermarket stereos (as well as Android Auto in a 2016 Hyundai Sonata) and found that the systems are helpful for finding the latest points of interest and less distracting than picking up your smartphone to do the same functions. Our biggest gripe is that neither integrates your car’s stereo functions well, such as listening to satellite or terrestrial radio, or a CD. You have to keep switching back and forth.
GM will roll out CarPlay and Android Auto along with upgraded touch-screen hardware for 2016. Oddly, only the smaller 7-inch screen in the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro, Cruze, Malibu, Silverado, and Spark will get Android Auto to start with. Higher-end models with the 8-inch screen won’t get Android Auto for a few more months.
The only GM models that won’t get CarPlay this fall are the Chevrolet Equinox, Sonic, SS, Trax, Traverse, and commercial Express vans; GMC Acadia and Terrain; Buick Encore, Enclave, and Verano; and Cadillac SRX. The SRX (likely to be named XT5) will get CarPlay with its upcoming redesign early next year. The Sonic and Trax may get the update next year. The others will wait for their next full redesigns.
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