What is Android Auto used for?

What do Android Auto and Apple Carplay offer

The large infotainment systems are among the most expensive extras that manufacturers offer ex works today. But why spend a lot of money when you can simply connect your smartphone? With Android Auto, Apple Carplay and soon also Amazon's Echo Auto, this is definitely an attractive idea for many car buyers. But does the integration work as seamlessly as hoped and are the smartphone systems reliable companions in the car? As is so often the case, the devil is in the details.

First slow, then intense development

In 2014, Apple started with Carplay, and Android Auto followed shortly thereafter. Since then, both systems have been extensively developed, which was also necessary. There were plenty of teething troubles. With Carplay it was above all the unhelpful route guidance via Apple Maps, with Android Auto weaknesses in operation and stability.

The voice assistants, which the car manufacturers had nothing to counteract for a long time, have increased in particular. The German premium manufacturers have followed suit and are now gradually offering intelligent voice assistants in their vehicles, but their meaning and use is certainly debatable. Whether the customer is really interested in saying "I'm cold" instead of turning the knob quickly may be questioned.

Thanks to their integration into the lives of their users and access to the search intelligence behind them, the smartphone assistants are able to do a lot more: access to contacts, messages, use information from hotel or flight bookings, request information from the Internet or even guessing games for several people with Android Auto are possible via the voice interface. On the other hand, there is no integration into the vehicle systems - for understandable reasons, keyword "security". The air conditioning or fine adjustments of driver assistants cannot be controlled via Google Assistant or Siri.

Infotainment as a head unit

The principle is the same for Carplay and Android Auto: connecting the smartphone to the car via USB cable is sufficient. The telephones render the user interface and the infotainment system handles the audio input and output. The data is transferred via a USB cable. This is used to run the audio streams for playback and voice input, the H264 video stream for the user interface and the control signals from the infotainment system, as well as the transmission of individual vehicle data (including compass, GPS, speed) to the smartphone. All data connections continue to run over the phone. Sufficient data volume must therefore be available or one should make sure that music, maps and other large amounts of data are available offline if possible.

In addition to the cable connection, Android Auto automatically establishes a Bluetooth connection with the vehicle, which is used for telephony via the hands-free protocol (HFP). Apple only uses the wired connection using the Carplay protocol (including iAP2).

Mostly wired

With Carplay Wireless, Apple has been offering the option of doing without the Lightning cable since 2016. Google didn't follow suit until 2018 with Android Auto Wireless. In both cases, a two-stage connection process takes place first via Bluetooth, via which data is exchanged in order to then establish a WiFi connection. Here, too, Android Auto maintains the Bluetooth connection for HFP, while with Carplay it is only used for discovery and connection establishment and is then disconnected.

Those who prefer an audiophile listening experience and have corresponding audio files on their smartphone will prefer the wired variant, as in this case uncompressed LPCM streams are transmitted to the infotainment via both systems, while AAC streams are used via Wifi connection to manage the amount of data to reduce.

Whether you want to do without a cable is currently still a rather theoretical one. The selection of vehicles that support Carplay Wireless is very manageable. As of July 2019, there is not a single model available on the market for Android Auto Wireless. BMW was a pioneer in 2016 with the integration of Carplay Wireless; at Audi, the wireless version will be on board in all new models based on the MIB2 + modular infotainment kit from mid-2018. Mercedes introduced Carplay Wireless with the new A-Class - curiously, however, only as long as you don't order the large expansion stage of the MBUX.

Restricted use

If the connection between the smartphone and the infotainment system is established, the approach with both systems is quite similar: a simplified representation enables access to approved and certified apps. This is to ensure that approved apps do not unnecessarily distract the driver from what is happening on the road. Android Auto even enforces traffic-friendly operation by punishing intensive scrolling through a playlist, for example, with a five-second compulsory pause every few scrolling processes.