CarPlay and Android Auto Look to Become Standard in New Cars


Between Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) CarPlay and Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Android Auto, it seems that car manufacturers are getting serious about bringing plug and play mobile operating system functionality to new cars in 2014 and beyond.

According to its website, Apple has signed up nine more car manufacturers for CarPlay, adding Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Audi (AUDVF.PK), Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat (FIATY.PK), Jeep, Mazda (MZDAF.PK), and Ram to the existing list of manufacturers offering current or future models equipped with the technology. Others previously signed up were BMW (BAMXY.PK), Chevrolet, Citroen, Ferrari, Ford (NYSE:F), Honda (NYSE:HMC), Hyundai (HYMTF.PK), Jaguar, Kia (KIMTF.PK), Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi (MMTOF.PK), Nissan (NSANY.PK), Opel, Peugeot (PEUGF.PK), Subaru, Suzuki (SZKMF.PK), Toyota (TOYOF.PK), and Volvo (VOLVY.PK).

Apple touts CarPlay as “the best iPhone experience on four wheels.” The technology is designed for users who already own an iPhone, and provides them with a safer way to use the smartphone in the car by putting the interface on a display built in to the car. CarPlay uses Siri voice control to enable users to make calls, send and receive messages, hear alerts, or listen to music while driving.

Apple Maps is integrated into the interface, can offer turn-by-turn directions, and can predict addresses based on information in text messages, emails, contact profiles, or calendars. Apple says that CarPlay also supports apps, and has so far named Podcasts, Beats Music, iHeart Radio, At Bat, Spotify, and Stitcher as those that are integrated so far. The interface can be controlled via knobs and buttons that control a display, or via a touchscreen display itself.

Several of the manufacturers who are making cars that support CarPlay also support the competing Android Auto by Google. Android Auto provides access via voice recognition to Google Maps, Google Search, Google Play Music, plus email, text messaging, and voicemail. The software also supports third-party apps, like Spotify and Pandora (NYSE:P).

Both systems provide a smart shortcut to getting the Android and iOS software into users’ cars, since all a consumer needs to do is plug in his or her smartphone. Apple’s system uses a Lightning cable, while Google’s uses MicroUSB, but the system requirements are similar enough that some car makers will support both systems at once, offering users more choice and more flexibility.

Wired reports that car manufacturers who are (so far) working only with Android Auto include Acura, Bentley, Maserati, Renault (RNSDF.PK), Seat, Skoda, and Volkswagen (VLKAY.PK). ZDNet reports that manufacturers who support both the Apple and Google systems include Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Jeep, Kia, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Opel, Subaru, Suzuki, and Volvo.

Though Android Auto just launched, it was clear in January, when Google became a founding member of the Android-driven Open Automotive Alliance, that the company would enter the space of in-vehicle communications and navigation. USA Today reports that the alliance now has over 40 auto and technology partners. The competition between the two platforms is about to kick off, with some CarPlay equipped models to be made available later this summer, and Android Auto deploying to some vehicles by the end of the year.

What platform consumers use will more than likely be determined by which smartphone they already own. But for the sake of comparison, Today’s Edward C. Baig was given a demonstration of each of the systems. He says that CarPlay offers a cleaner, more familiar interface. However, Baig notes that Android Auto capitalizes on Google’s strengths in voice search:

“You can ask out loud ‘What is the weather in Monterey?’ and get an immediate answer. You can then follow up with ‘What are the hours of the aquarium?’ and you’ll get hours for the Monterey Bay Aquarium without you having to specify which aquarium, since Monterey was the city you just asked about. Finally, you can say, ‘Navigate there’ to get turn-by-turn directions — naturally via Google Maps.”

The objective for both systems is to provide users with the tools they need without distracting them from the road. The Android Developers Blog outlines the design principles for Android Auto, stating that the functions and experiences in the interface should be “glanceable and simple,” “predictive, yet predictable,” “connected,” and “naturally integrated.”

Time reports that the plug-in system allows car makers to retain control over the dashboard, and decide how the car’s systems should integrate with the Google or Apple platform. Google is also allowing manufacturers to add some of their own features; Time gives the example of vehicle diagnostics and roadside services requests.

Most car manufacturers won’t want an outside factor like the smartphone a potential buyer already has in his or pocket to determine which maker’s car he or she chooses. So it’s safe to expect that many of the manufacturers who are working with only one of the two platforms so far will also support the other.  In a few years, it’s also likely that the functionality will become a more standard offering, and its availability will hopefully make an impact on road safety by lessening the potential for distracted driving.

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