Apple and Google are taking their epic mobile-device battle into your next car. Both companies now offer a way to connect to and control your phone from your vehicle’s in-dash infotainment system.
Apple CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto let you use your car to have your phone make calls, send and receive texts, handle emails, and even control some apps without ever having to pick up your handset.
When can you get it? Apple announced that CarPlay will be an option on as many as 40 new vehicle models in 2015, while Android Auto will similarly hit the road this year.
Want to know more before you head into the new-car, new-tech showroom?
What are CarPlay and Android Auto?
Essentially, they are apps for your iPhone or Android smartphone that allow you to easily control the phone from your car’s built-in touchscreen or steering wheel.
Cool. How does it work?
Apple’s CarPlay is built into the iPhone’s iOS operating system, so you don’t have to download any extra apps to use it. Android users, however, will have to get the Android Auto app from the Google Play store.
To get either system working, you’ll have to connect your phone to your car via a USB cable to sync the app with your car’s infotainment system. You can then start the app from your phone or with the Android Auto or CarPlay icon on your car’s touchscreen.
What do these apps look like?
Apple’s CarPlay replicates the look of your iPhone’s home screen on your infotainment system’s screen. Everything from the app icons to the signal-strength indicator looks the same as it does on your iPhone.
Android Auto, on the other hand, looks like a cross between Android and Google Now. You get the same icons as with Android, but information is presented as cards similar to what you’d see with Google Now.
What can I do with CarPlay and Android Auto that I can’t with my car’s own infotainment system?
Unlike your car’s infotainment system, CarPlay and Android Auto can be easily updated with a simple software download to your phone. To update your car’s infotainment system, you often need to take your vehicle to your dealer, who can perform the update (unless you have a Tesla; the system updates automatically, like apps).
Both CarPlay and Android Auto let you control some apps that you use on your smartphone, so there’s no learning curve to using them.
Will smartphone apps work with CarPlay and Android Auto?
Yes and no. To help make sure that their systems don’t distract you while you’re driving, Apple and Google have made sure that only specific apps work with CarPlay and Android Auto.
Basically, they limit you to controlling audio and navigation apps. So while you’ll be able to listen to Spotify or Stitcher or NPR, you won’t be able to play Candy Crush Saga or stream YouTube videos on your car’s in-dash display.
Can I use it with my ’87 Nova?
No. Automakers have to install special software in their vehicles to make them compatible with either CarPlay or Android Auto. So even if you have a car from 2014 with all the bells and whistles, without that software, you won’t be able to use either app.
Cars with CarPlay and Android Auto preinstalled will start rolling off of assembly lines later this year. Automakers may release special firmware updates that they could install in older vehicles to let them use either app.
You could also buy an aftermarket infotainment system that is compatible with the apps. But you can’t just plug your phone into any car and expect the apps to work.
Also, get rid of that Nova.
Can I use any iPhone or Android smartphone?
CarPlay works with the iPhone 5, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, and iPhone 6 Plus. So if you have an older iPhone, you’ll need to upgrade to a new one to use CarPlay.
Android Auto is compatible with smartphones running Android 5.0 Lollipop and later. That means you’ll either have to wait for your smartphone maker to release an update to Android 5.0 or get a phone that’s already running 5.0, such as the Samsung Galaxy S6.
So, can Apple and Google take over my car and make it go all Maximum Overdrive?
Ha-ha, great reference. I love that movie.
No. CarPlay and Android Auto can’t take over your car. Both apps are limited to accessing your car’s infotainment system, which is separated from your car’s steering and acceleration controls.
Researchers have been able to hack and take control of autos in the past, but only by accessing a vehicle via its own cellular connection or by physically connecting something to the car.
Phew. So, which automakers support Android Auto, and which support CarPlay?
Google lists 28 automakers as Android Auto partners, including Ford, Chevy, Honda, Hyundai, Audi, and Bentley. Apple, meanwhile, says 34 car companies will support CarPlay:
Many car manufacturers will end up supporting both systems, but if you want to be sure that your next car will work with your iPhone or Android smartphone, you can check out Apple’s CarPlay site and Google’s Android Auto site.
Anything else I should know?
We’ll have more on Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as more automakers begin to introduce them in their latest vehicles, so stay tuned.