It’s been a few years since two of our most used digital car assistants began to make their way into car manufacturers and their modern infotainment systems. But even though a good number of us are already familiar with Android Auto and Apple Carplay, the differentiation can still be quite confusing.
Whether it’s a new car, an upgraded one, or just simply one in the middle of a few changes, each system used for it will have its own subtle differences that will affect one’s final decision. This is especially true when you consider that both of them are essentially similar, save for the updates developed for each app.
So we ask, what exactly is the difference between Android Auto and Apple Carplay? Let’s evaluate each system head to head to take a good look.
- Apple Carplay
- Android Auto
- Why These Two in-car Systems?
- Can You Connect Your Android Device to Apple CarPlay and Vice Versa?
- Features Comparison Between Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
- The Final Conclusion
First unveiled in 2014, Apple Carplay was the product of an almost decade-long development process that aimed to modernize cars with a touch (pun intended) of updated infotainment goodness.
As such, this “car assistant system” is technically meant to supersede all similarly-designed systems previously used by cars at that time. Carplay was developed and optimized to be more user-friendly, easier to access, and most importantly, safer to use for drives.
In other words, it is a notification filtered iPhone chucked straight into your dashboard. Well, more specifically the sound media, notification system, and navigation guidance of any iPhone on or beyond iOS 7.1. But you get the idea.
Apple Carplay can do all sorts of car stuff, and some more. It can play music for you. You can use a navigation system with turn-by-turn instructions. It can deliver received messages via voice. It can even answer queries just like how Apple Siri normally would on an iPhone.
Additionally, all of this is built on an interface that is mainly voice activated, as well as on a very simplified yet still very familiar visual layout.
The contender to Carplay, Android Auto was released exactly a year later in 2015 with pretty much the same design, features, and applications. The types of apps used are, for the most part, pretty much the same, though the specific apps themselves are different.
Android Auto also makes use of Android’s own navigation and access perks, such as Google Maps, and the full use of Google Assistant. The method of use is similar to Carplay; just whip out your Pixel or Samsung Galaxy with the minimum required OS version (5.0 and up) in order enable the app on your car.
While the interface as the most obvious difference, Android Auto also makes use of a slightly different installation method. It needs to be downloaded first as an app on your Android phone, with the firmware of the car’s system updated to support Android Auto.
Android users may also find that setup can also differ slightly depending on the initial preferences set when installing and using Android Auto for the first time. These options could affect how you use Android Auto on specific features and situations, though in general it would still offer the same functionality as Apple Carplay.
Why These Two in-car Systems?
Perhaps the first thing that we need to address before choosing one of them, is why exactly do we have just two options?
Unless you have been slumbering for several centuries under a tree, it should be no surprise that iOS and Android are two of the most heavily used mobile operating systems within the tech consumer market. As of Q3 2018 in the United States alone for example, at least 63.5% and 36.3% of mobile devices are using iOS and Android respectively.
Due to the ubiquitous and wide range design of current mobile operating systems, integration and connectivity to various other types of systems can be made easily and reliably.
Sure, a car might have its firmware for its built-in infotainment system. But as Google and Apple pointed out and proven, it could use a bit of improvement and optimization in the form of Android Auto and Apple Carplay.
Especially with the themes of simplified access and smart navigation, which, as any smartphone user should know, is already pretty much already done, tried, and tested well on mobile devices.
As for the elephant in the room, our third big mobile tech player Microsoft did actually have its own similar product way before our current two contenders arrived on the scene.
Unfortunately, the vaunted Windows Embedded Automotive on the Ford Sync was panned to oblivion. Users unanimously agree that it was costly, sluggish to use, and is just overall difficulty to access. Microsoft has since then remained inactive in this specific niche of the tech market.
So, if you want to use a premier in-car system for your vehicle, then Android Auto and Apple Carplay are the two best options you can have. So long as your urban wagon isn’t a Tesla of course.
Can You Connect Your Android Device to Apple CarPlay and Vice Versa?
Short answer: no. An Android device cannot be connected to access an Apple Carplay-installed infotainment system, and an iPhone cannot be used to launch Android Auto. There is a choice however, to install either of the two on dual-compatible Carplay Android Auto car systems. In this case, you just have to determine which one you would really want to use, and then not be able to use the other system later.
So for instance, if you have a slew of Apple products but you really have an urgent reason to prefer using Google Maps, you’d be better off having an extra Android Lollipop phone in hand to use on your soon-to-be Android Auto car.
Features Comparison Between Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
1. Voice with Control: Google Assistant vs Apple Siri
To start off, we should begin with the most important safety aspect of in-car systems, voice control. With a robust voice activated control system, the driver maintains his or her attention to the road, without the need to visually access the interface. At the moment, Siri and Google seems to do this job quite well.
Functionally, whatever you can do with Siri voice on the iPhone, you can also do on Apple Carplay, albeit simplified for quick use.
Listening to media is pretty straightforward for example. You can dictate the music app you want to open and/or give specific play commands. It will even open to the last track you are listening to on any iOS device that you recently used.
Basic navigation commands are available, such as requesting Siri to find nearby restaurants within your location. When dealing with message notifications, Siri can ask if you want to reply, which would then allow sending messages through dictation. Siri will then transcribe the message in its own voice, to be sent to the dictated recipient.
On the Android Auto side, it gets Android’s very own Google Assistant as its voice interface. As with any other Android device compatible with it, saying “Ok Google” will activate its listening mode by default. Like Carplay’s Siri, it will answer any query given in voice form, and will not be written as a notification for the driver’s safety.
Do take note however, that on setup a short verification process is needed as you record your own voice with “Ok Google” three times for recognition.
Again, multimedia access commands are pretty much the same, dictate the app, the song, or artist, and a particular track will be played for you. Sending and receiving mail is also the same; you speak your intention to say a message, dictate the message, and tell the name of the recipient.
2. Hands-On Controls
If there is enough attention availability, you can also access the app via the car’s touchscreen. The interface is intuitive, as it is mostly similar to any layout of any phone OS today. The biggest difference is that they’re made for easier touch navigation. Everything is much simpler and displayed bigger, since the app is meant for car use.
The traditional black background with the main app icons on the home screen is the primary visual theme for Apple Carplay. A side bar menu then provides access to additional info and options relevant to the user. There are six icons within this menu, which are, from top to bottom:
- The options button
- Most recently used apps (two icons)
- A time indicator
- Current connectivity status
- The home button.
Within this main screen, do take note that message notifications pop up as a big text box above the screen. You usually have to touch it once first before you can access Siri’s voice commands for sending and receiving mail.
Android Auto is more or less the same. However, it is overlaid instead on a blue or purplish background, with the additional options on the lower side instead. The icons are also very different, which are, from left to right:
- Google Maps
- The phone call button
- The home button (center)
- The music (apps) button
- A button to return to the main menu of the car’s original infotainment OS.
It also has a home screen, where it only displays the time and date, as well as a set of recent notifications and access links to commands you have previously done. Android’s ever present mic button is also located at the top right of the screen, if you need a more direct access to Google Assistant.
3. Calls and Texts
As mentioned earlier, communication methods are mostly handled via voice commands and transcription. The default setting is that both systems do not allow the visual representation of any kind of text message, and is instead spoken via voice only. This is deliberate, and is made to both simplify the message processing procedure and make it safer for the driver.
Most of the changes and difference are within the visuals, the interface, and the manner by which messages are allowed to be sent.
For Apply Carplay, the system pretty much treats itself like an iPhone. You voice a command to send a message, dictate the message, and it gets sent. If you receive a message, you get the text box notification, and with a tap on it, you are prompted the option to reply.
For Android Auto, unless you are making or receiving a phone call, all responses to text messages are pretty much only available via pre-set messages. These messages can be made, added or edited manually when not driving, or when accessing the app options directly from the phone.
The keyword here is simplicity. All it takes to text and call is to use the least number of voice commands and/or button prompts, with a minimum access to its native and third-party messaging apps and calling menus.
Perhaps the main feature of any in-car assistant system, a navigation system’s use is pretty much descriptive, obvious and straightforward. Not much different once again from the turn-by-turn directions and layout style guidance of smartphones, but there are a few points to consider.
For instance, Apple Carplay uses Apple Maps to provide navigation for your vehicle. If that is also what you are using normally on the iPhone connected to the car, then there is not much to explain anymore here. Drag and pinch to zoom in and out, point to locations for directions, and tap on menus for more information.
Android Auto uses Google Maps of course, and this is perhaps one of the better points of this particular system. Though, as much as this seems way more convenient, there is also nothing much to write home about as well.
Also, it is quite funny to consider that since not all infotainment systems have built-in GPS, your phone decidedly becomes your car’s main computer the moment you install either Android Auto or Apple Carplay in it. Though, this fact may also be just as convenient and life-saving as well.
5. Audio Media
If navigation is the main feature, then audio is the classic one. Whether you are accessing third-party apps, or something native for the system, playing audio for our two in-car systems should be easy enough to handle. Audio apps are also some of the most popular choice for app developers to create for both systems, since sound and voice is the main game for such systems.
Apple Carplay music takes the standard route with its “recently used app” buttons at its menu tray. Since you are most likely to use third-party audio apps anyway, it would very much be the default button at the screen’s left side.
As explained earlier, if you are using the default music app, it will show the last music you played on iTunes with on your iPhone. And even when using a third party app, the Carplay will keep the song on even when you go back to the main menu.
The same cannot be said for Android Auto however. It ditches the long routes altogether and simply puts a music icon directly on the menu tray. Unlike Carplay however, you still have to choose again from a music app on the menu that pops up after tapping on the button.
Default Google Play Music app aside, some of the UI designs of similar supported apps can also be quite different on Android Auto. Pandora for example, requires a menu button before you can like/dislike a track on iOS, while a big like button is just sitting beside the play button of its Android Auto counterpart.
Don’t worry about the controls, they remain intuitive, overall the same, and actually even easier to access with the big screen buttons.
The Final Conclusion
All in all, there is technically no better in-car assistant system between the two. Android Auto might get a few extra points on the universality of its navigation system via Google Maps. But the optimization in simplicity that Apple Carplay provides still stays true to the hands free original purpose of a well-built car assistant system.
Though having different layouts, UI, and access methods, Apple Carplay and Android Auto still have very similar functional designs. Both have similar launch app layouts, have similar notifications, built with similar voice command systems, and are developed with identical safety design protocols.
In conclusion, the choice here would largely depend on what type of phone the user is currently handling as a main unit.