Both Android Auto and CarPlay have tremendously improved the in-car infotainment experience for drivers. The two apps offer a more innovative and connected approach than most traditional systems, combined with a familiar and intuitive user interface linked to the user’s data. No matter what vehicle they’re in, drivers enjoy the same interface and don’t have to set their preferences from scratch, which renters appreciate the most. This being said, I’ve been pretty vocal about not liking everything about Android Auto, but is CarPlay any better? Let’s see which is the most convenient when sitting behind the steering wheel.
While driving, using a voice assistant is probably the easiest way to interact with a car or a phone. Both CarPlay and Android Auto support this feature, thanks to Siri and Google Assistant. The latter is usually praised for better understanding requests and supports a more comprehensive range of third-party services. This allows you to control devices or check your bank account’s balance while sitting comfortably behind your steering wheel, while iPhone users might struggle to do so.
Left: CarPlay’s interface lets you change or send a message but doesn’t display the message itself
Right: Android Auto’s interface is less intrusive and shows a preview of the message on top of the app you’re using
In-car interactions are also less frustrating thanks to Assistant’s ability to transcribe what you’re saying on the screen, which is particularly useful when sending a message, as it lets you notice typos much more easily. Some might argue this is unsafe while driving, but keep in mind the transcription is only displayed for a few seconds before disappearing, forcing the driver to put their focus back on the road.
Winner: Android Auto
Even though Android Auto is about to get an updated look and feel, its current interface only shows a single app on the car’s screen, with no option to multitask. CarPlay, on the other hand, has offered a dashboard UI since iOS 13, which consolidates music, maps, and Siri suggestions into a single screen. This makes it easier to access everything you need at a glance, without switching from one app to the other.
Left: CarPlay’s dashboard, which shows various apps on a single screen
Right: Android Auto only shows one app, with a dock at the bottom of the screen
Similarly, CarPlay always shows shortcuts to the latest used music, navigation, phone, and settings apps on the left, making it easier to jump to them while driving. Android Auto isn’t all bad, though, as it does have a persistent dock at the bottom of the screen that displays the music or navigation app, with buttons to switch tracks or arrows with your route guidance.
When it comes to entering text, CarPlay doesn’t require you to shift into park or put on the parking brake to enter a destination using the on-screen keyboard, unlike Android Auto.
Lastly, Android Auto is very annoying when it comes to handing the phone to the passenger while driving, as the latter won’t be able to use Google Maps. This makes it much more annoying to ask someone in the car to add a stop to the itinerary using the phone, while it works perfectly using CarPlay.
When using Google Maps or Waze, Android Auto lets you pan and explore the rest of the itinerary just like you would on your phone. Things aren’t so intuitive with CarPlay, as you have to use arrow keys to move the map, which is both dangerous and counter-intuitive when driving.
Left: You need to use arrows to pan the map with CarPlay
Right: You can swipe on the screen to explore the map with Android Auto
Similarly, while taking an alternative route is as easy as tapping the one highlighted in grey on Android Auto, doing this does absolutely nothing on CarPlay. Instead, you have to go back to the route options, hoping to tap the one that corresponds to the route you saw on the map.
Android Auto has the upper hand compared to CarPlay if you want to explore the map or find alternative routes when driving.
Winner: Android Auto
Third Party apps
Both platforms allow users to install third-party apps, such as navigation, music, or podcast ones. However, the number of apps available isn’t quite the same between Android Auto and CarPlay, as the first is compatible with much more apps than the second, especially when it comes to messaging. While the first intent of driving isn’t to be sending out messages, it’s good to know your favorite apps will be easily usable when driving.
Winner: Android Auto
Calls and Notifications
Whether you like it or not, you’re likely to get notifications and calls while driving. While both platforms are designed to handle these safely, CarPlay is a lot more intrusive than Android Auto, in that banners are displayed at the bottom of the screen, which prevents you from seeing where you’re supposed to go if you need guidance. On Android Auto, banners appear at the top of the screen. Unlike CarPlay, Android Auto lets you dismiss a notification or mute it, which is convenient if you prefer not to be notified about updates sent to a WhatsApp group but want to keep receiving other notifications.
Left: CarPlay doesn’t let you interact with notifications
Right: Android Auto allows you to mute and dismiss notifications
When it comes to “reading” a notification, Android Auto does so discreetly. CarPlay, on the other hand, takes up the whole screen, which is quite invasive when driving.
Worse, when receiving a call, CarPlay displays it in full screen, which completely hides what was previously displayed. On the other hand, Android Auto shows a small banner at the top of the screen. The first platform stays on the call page if you pick up, while Android Auto simply shows the controls in the dock.
Winner: Android Auto
Although both CarPlay and Android Auto can work wirelessly, some manufacturers or models don’t support wireless Android Auto, while they work just fine with CarPlay. This isn’t necessarily a big deal, as a simple dongle can make virtually any car compatible with wireless Android Auto, but it’s still an extra hassle.
Also, when connected wirelessly, some Android devices tend to get very hot over long drives, which almost never happens with an iPhone. Finally, Android Auto also drains more battery when used wirelessly compared to CarPlay.
Due to these issues, CarPlay is at an advantage here, even though wireless connectivity is not Android Auto’s worst drawback.
Although taking a screenshot while driving remains a rare occurrence, both CarPlay and Android Auto offer the option to take a snippet of the screen and share it if needed. However, while the process is as simple as pressing the volume up and side buttons simultaneously with an iPhone, it’s much more painstaking with Android Auto.
You probably won’t choose an iPhone over an Android handset for taking screenshots of your car’s screen, but in case you need to, you better have an Apple device.
Android Auto takes the win (but CarPlay is pretty awesome)
Even though Android Auto seems to be the winner, you’ll have to gauge what matters to you when driving. Android Auto is much better at letting you communicate when you’re in your car, both by having a far less invasive approach to calls and notifications but also by being more transparent about what you’re about to send.
CarPlay, on the other hand, has a more modern interface, which lets you see several apps simultaneously in a neat dashboard. It also offers a better connection experience, mainly when used wirelessly.
It’s also important to keep in mind Google is about to refresh Android Auto’s interface, which will probably look very similar to CarPlay’s, further closing the gap with its competitor.
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