How much of your life do you run from your smartphone? Do you use it to message friends and family? Probably. Do you use it to send work emails? Maybe. What about watching Netflix or listening to Spotify? Yep. How about keeping track of your calendar? Mmm hmm.
It’s pretty amazing how much of our lives we’ve delegated to our smartphones. But that raises a serious car connectivity problem for manufacturers, especially considering how drivers are now banned from using their phones while behind the wheel.
How do you keep someone connected and allow them to access their phones in a safe and legal way?
Cars already have awesome infotainment panels, right? How about we take all the stuff of your smartphone and zap it over to the infotainment system?
Well, that's exactly what Google has started doing with a new technology called smartphone mirroring. You might recognise better by the name Android Auto.
What does Android Auto do?
The simple answer is that Android Auto makes your smartphone’s functionality accessible via your infotainment screen. So instead of using your car's out-of-date satnav, you can use Google Maps. Instead of using its dodgy music system, you can use Spotify. And so on.
Importantly, Android Auto lets you interact with your phone via your steering wheel controls and the infotainment panel, which is legal in the UK. It also optimises all the apps for voice, meaning you can talk to Spotify and tell it to skip a song rather than fumbling around with physical controls on your infotainment screen.
What apps are compatible with Android Auto?
Since Android Auto is still relatively new, you can’t use every single app with the system. At the moment, there’s around 120 supported apps, ranging from Google Maps and Telegram to Google Play Music and Audible. As more cars start to support Android Auto and the market grows, you’ll see more apps being added to the system.
For a full list of supported apps, check out the Android Auto site here.
What doesn’t Android Auto do?
Frustratingly, Android Auto can’t control your car’s infotainment system. That means you can’t use Android Auto to adjust the climate control or switch the radio station. It’s not a massive issue but it is annoying having to switch between the two systems.
I get that it’s probably a huge task to work out how Android Auto should communicate with dozens of different car models but I think it’s something they should focus on.
What smartphones support Android Auto?
The good news is that any Android smartphone running Android 5.0 (Lollipop) should be able to work with Android Auto.
Android 5.0 was released in November 2014 so if your phone is newer than that it should work with the system. However, with Androids staggered release schedule, this isn't always the case. To double check, just go to the Play Store, download the app and see if it runs. (Unlike Apple CarPlay, Android Auto can run independently of an infotainment system.)
What cars are compatible with Android Auto?
Unfortunately, not all cars are compatible with Android Auto. While most car manufacturers are working to integrate Android Auto into their new models, progress is slow and there’s no guarantee that it’ll come as standard on new models.
The only manufacturer to straight up refuse to integrate Android Auto is Toyota, who have declined to include Android Auto in its cars over privacy concerns. Interestingly, Toyota is starting to build Apple CarPlay into its newer models.
Is it better than Apple CarPlay?
Whether you use Android Auto or Apple CarPlay will probably depend on whether you have an iPhone or an Android device. However, if we didn’t compare the two, the comment section would be full of people saying we favouritise one over the other.
So, here's a quick comparison. (For a more in-depth battle between the two, check out our comparison blog post here.)
- Model Support: While Apple CarPlay supports 300 models, Android Auto supports over 400! Both CarPlay and Android Auto can be accessed via aftermarket stereo systems. However, only Android Auto can run on its own without being hooked up to an infotainment system.
- App Support: Alongside six core Apple apps (Phone, Music, Maps, Messages, Now Playing and Podcasts), CarPlay supports 17 third-party apps, including WhatsApp, Spotify and iPlayer Radio. Android Auto, on the other hand, supports 120 apps, ranging from Spotify and Google Play Music to WhatsApp and YouTube.
- Interface: Both services do a great job with the interface. Everything is big, easy to locate and simple to navigate. Again, personal preference between Apple and Android will probably sway you one way or the other.
- Navigation: At the moment, Apple CarPlay doesn’t support Google Maps, which means you’re limited to Apple Maps. If you’ve used Apple Maps, you’ll know why this is a fairly big negative.
Like I mentioned at the start, whether you go with Android Auto or Apple CarPlay is almost certainly decided by what phone is in your pocket. If you use an iPhone, you aren’t going to trade it in for a Samsung Galaxy just so you can get your hands on Android Auto!