Stock car infotainment systems have always been in use since I can remember. Most automakers have their car infotainment systems. The crappy designs, horrible icons, weird fonts, to mention but a few are the characteristics of the manufacturer’s infotainment systems. Because most manufacturer infotainment systems are awful, Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay have come as improvements.
Both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay leverage the power of your phone for music, voice, and navigation to power up your car’s infotainment options as well. These two are doing a great job of trying to improve on the manufacturer’s infotainment systems.
So, how do they compare, and which is the best?
Android Auto is a Google-owned In-vehicle interface that mirrors the features from an android device to a compatible built-in car’s infotainment screen. Android Auto is designed to help drivers use their phones without having to pick up their smartphones and take their eyes off of the road. Android Auto supports touchscreen and button controls, but a hands-free control using Google’s voice command (Google Assistant) is encouraged to minimize distractions. Android Auto is compatible with an Android phone running Android 5.0 and up. Android 6.0 is recommended for seamless connectivity. You can download the app from Google Playstore; however, with Android 10, Android Auto is built-in.
CarPlay is an Apple standard like Android Auto that enables your car’s head unit to be both a display and controller of your smartphone – in this case, an iPhone. Like Android Auto, with CarPlay, you can control your phone using voice control (Siri voice control), buttons and knobs, and touchscreen. Apple CarPlay is available on iPhone phones, beginning with the iPhone 5 running iOS 7.1 or later. Unlike Android Auto, you do not need to download CarPlay to your iPhone. However, your car or your aftermarket head unit must support Apple CarPlay.
Android Auto vs. Apple CarPlay Comparison
- Calls and Messaging
- Music and Audio
- Voice Control: Google Assistant vs. Apple Siri
- Third-party app support
Configuring CarPlay for first use in your car is pretty straight forward.
- First, turn on your car’s infotainment system.
- Turn on Siri under settings on your iPhone.
- Connect your phone via USB to your Car’s USB port.
- Press and hold the Home button on your iPhone until Siri appears on the head unit’s display.
After a successful installation, just tap the CarPlay icon next time you want to activate it. CarPlay also offers the option to revert to your Car’s original settings in case it is not your cup of tea.
With Android Auto, unless you are running Android 10 on your phone, then you need to install the Android Auto app from Playstore before use. With the Android Auto app installed on your phone,
- Connect your phone via a USB cable to your car’s head unit.
- The app will recommend the major apps you should download if you have not installed them. Eg, Google Maps, Google Play Music, or Google Search.
Once installed, a popup will ask you to grant the apps permission.
After this, you will be set to use Android Auto.
Setting up these two apps is easy. However, you should check if your phone and car support the apps. To use CarPlay with your iPhone, it should be an iPhone 5 and running iOS 7.1 or a later version or a later model. Your car should also be compatible with CarPlay. See the car models that support CarPlay. To run Android Auto, your Android phone should be running Android 5.0 or a higher version. Supported car models can be found here.
Winner: A Tie
With the user interfaces or the design, bias is likely to influence which you prefer between Android and Apple’s interface. If you are an Android user, Android Auto will probably be your best. The reverse is would also apply to iPhone users.
However, staying clear of bias, which has the best user interface?
CarPlay has a flat organizational design that displays all the apps and features as large icons on a scrollable screen. It is hard to find fault with the CarPlay interface. Overall it is simple and good.
Android Auto has a slightly different organization of its home screen. At the bottom, you have a menu that has different shortcuts for various functions.
Overall, Apple’s CarPlay is a little better compared to Android Auto. Though both are still undergoing updates to improve user experience, CarPlay’s simple layout takes the day.
Before the release of iOS 12, Apple CarPlay was restricted to the default Apple Maps as the navigational app. Apple CarPlay did not support Google Maps or any of the third-party navigation apps. With the support of Google Map and other navigational apps like Waze or Sygic GPS, users can now opt to install them and opt-out of Apples’s Maps app, which is forced on them. To use Google Maps on Carplay, simply download the app from the App Store and launch it by pressing the icon on your CarPlay display.
With Android Auto, Google Maps is the default navigation app. Google Maps remains as one of the best go-to navigational apps. Compared to other navigational apps, it offers clear directions, preferred features, a user-friendly interface, and lots of other features. If you do not prefer Google Maps, Android Auto also support third-party apps like Waze, which is a better alternative.
With navigation, Android Auto is a clear winner. Though Apple’s CarPlay has grown to support Google Maps and other navigational apps, Android Auto still offers better customization and functionality.
Winner: Android Auto
Calls and Messaging
Both Communication methods (calls and messaging) of these two systems is handled via voice commands. In both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, messages are spoken via voice only. This default setting makes it safer for the driver to receive and retrieve messages or pick calls safely. With calls, both these apps work flawlessly.
With messaging, Android Auto is easily our favorite because it supports several messaging apps.
Whatsapp and messages are the only two messaging apps supported by CarPlay. So if you want to access other platforms like Facebook Messenger, Telegram, Slack, Skype or Kik, you are out of luck. If you receive a message through a messaging app other than Whatsapp or messages, you will have to pick up your phone and read it yourself.
Android Auto supports many messaging apps. These include Whatsapp, Skype, Google Allo, WeChat, Telegram, Facebook Messanger, Hangouts, Kik, and many more third-party messaging applications. This is more convenient for people who access other messaging apps other than Whatsapp and messages provided by CarPlay.
Winner: Android Auto
Music and Audio
Music or audio is probably one of the essential features of a car infotainment system. Playing audio from the comfort of your car should be easy to handle. For music and audio, both Android Auto and CarPlay have their built-in music apps and also support third-party apps.
With Apple CarPlay, apart from the default music app, you can also use Spotify, Google Play Music, Amazon Music, and other third-party music apps. In the new iOS 13 update, Siri now works with third-party music apps.
Android Auto’s default music app is Google Play Music. Android Auto also supports third-party apps like Amazon Music, Spotify, and Youtube Music.
Winner: A Tie
Voice Control: Google Assistant vs Apple Siri
Voice control, as opposed to hands-on-control, helps a driver control a car and still keep his/her attention on the road without physically accessing the head unit. With voice being the next frontier of computer and gadget interfaces, having the best interface for audio.
Currently, Google’s assistant remains as the top, followed by Siri. In a test carried out by Zdnet.com, Google assistant performed best in most questions answered several categories. Here is a bar graph of the results based on the categories.
Though Google Assistant remains top in voice control compared to Siri, both do a great job.
Winner: A Tie
Third-party App Support
With the recent update of Apple’s CarPlay, Along with the core Apple apps, it has grown to support several third-party applications. However, the number is still less than 30 applications in total.
Android Auto currently supports over 120 applications, both Google and third-party apps.
While both systems support the essential apps one would need, a user with Android Auto will have the choice of the different apps it supports.
Winner: Android Auto
When talking about support, there are two things we consider. First, the number of car models a system supports and the phones that can run either CarPlay or Android Auto.
First, car models.
Though both apps are gaining ground and support more car models as time passes, Android Auto is still on top and supports more models than CarPlay. Currently, Android Auto is available in over 500 new car models worldwide. Though Apple’s CarPlay still lags, it has grown to support over 400 new car models worldwide, which is a close match compared to the number of Android Auto.
Aftermarket infotainment systems have also made it possible to add Android Auto or Apple CarPlay to previously unsupported vehicles.
In 2019, According to DeviceAtlas the number of iPhone users stood at 60%. Though Android is gaining popularity in the US, its numbers stood at 40%. This gives apple a considerable advantage because they can reach more users compared to Android.
Winner: A Tie
No. Apple CarPlay is OS-dependent and will only work with iPhones and iPads. To use CarPlay, you will have to buy an iPhone. With an Android phone, you can use Android Auto as your infotainment system.
Yes. Though most cars using CarPlay will require you to plug and connect your iPhone via the lightning cable, newer models now support CarPlay and work via the car’s Bluetooth connection.
Yes. Like CarPlay, the primary connection to your car is established via a USB cable. However, you can also connect your phone to your vehicle via a wireless connection.
Apple CarPlay is only available in newer car models from some manufacturers. If you own an old car model and wish to take advantage of CarPlay there, there is still an option for you. Several aftermarket stereo receivers support CarPlay.
Apart from Android Auto and CarPlay, there are several options you can still use as your Car’s infotainment system. These are Drivemode, MirroLink, CarOS, HERE WeGo, Airbiquity, Car Dashdroid, and Dashlinq.
After eight tough rounds, here are the scores.
Android Auto: 3
Apple CarPlay: 1
A Tie: 4
With numbers alone, Android Auto gets the title as the best car infotainment system. However, whether to choose Android Auto or Apple’s CarPlay will depend on your preferred mobile OS rather than the conclusion of this comparison. Both systems are also constantly undergoing updates to improve functionality and design.