Maybe you’ve just bought a new car, and you’re looking for a good phone interface. Maybe you’re about to go on a trip, or just started rides-hare driving. Or maybe you just want to make your phone and car work better together.
Like so many things these days, the battle lines have been drawn: Android or Apple? If you love your phone, I’m not going to try to change your mind. The last time I did that, I lost 100 Facebook friends and got my car keyed (well, almost).
If you’re on the fence, here’s the rundown on what makes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay unique.
What Android Auto Does
Android Auto casts a scaled-down version of the Android OS to your car’s dash screen. Install the app on your phone, plug it in via USB or connect wirelessly, and it will work with any compatible car. This app and CarPlay were both designed to allow you to safely use essential phone functions while driving. For that reason, most apps are disabled.
Popular music apps Pandora and Spotify will both remain active, as will the Audible and Google Books apps. Here’s the full list of supported apps for Android Auto. Notifications are also disabled and your Facebook messages will wait silently in the background until you get to your destination.
Google Assistant will read any text messages you receive, and you can respond via talk to text. Because Android Auto works via USB, you’ll get top quality stereo audio even if your phone doesn’t support stereo Bluetooth. Phone calls will still work over Bluetooth, so any steering wheel or dashboard phone controls will still work.
Several GPS apps will work with Android Auto, but Google Maps has some neat features. It leaves a little thumbnail on the bottom of your screen while you’re navigating other apps or taking a call. This helped when I was going to an unfamiliar flea market and was also on the phone. An unexpected turn came up, the notification popped up, and I was able to quickly get a picture of where I was supposed to go.
Android Auto also allows you to use Google Assistant on the road. You can control all your connected devices with voice commands while you’re on the way home from work. If your car isn’t supported, Android Auto will still run on your smartphone with some limited features.
What Apple CarPlay Does
Apple CarPlay is an app that casts a miniature iOS desktop to your car’s dashboard. It will work automatically when you connect your phone via USB, although some cars will ask you to click a button to enable CarPlay. On some newer cars, CarPlay will work via Bluetooth.
Like Android Auto, Apple CarPlay disables most apps and notifications. The full list of supported apps is posted here. Most popular music apps are supported, including Audible, Pandora, Spotify and iHeartRadio. As with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay disables notifications from most apps.
Audio quality will vary depending on whether you’ve connected via USB or Bluetooth, and whether your device supports stereo Bluetooth. The steering wheel and dashboard phone controls will still work since these connect via Bluetooth regardless. In addition to Apple Maps, Google Maps, Waze and Baidu navigation are all supported.
Apple CarPlay allows you to perform all Siri functions. Unlike Android Auto, voice commands work through your car instead of your phone. I love to blast 80s metal at top volume, so this feature was extra handy for getting Siri to hear me over the noise. Of course, this feature also means you won’t be able to use voice commands on non-compatible cars.
The Pros and Cons of Android Auto
In terms of compatibility, Android Auto is the winner. This app works on over 500 car models, the complete list is available here. Since it also runs as a standalone phone app, it can technically be used in any car. It’s also available on a wider variety of phones since more phones run Android than iOS.
The Google Maps integration is a nice feature here as well, but it doesn’t do much for you if you prefer a different navigation app. Android Auto does allow you to use more apps in general, but this is mostly a function of Android having more apps than Apple, to begin with.
One area that could be improved is the voice input. For users with older cars, it’s nice that Google Assistant will continue to take commands via your phone microphone.
For everyone else, it’s a pain. We’re not saying they should scrap this feature. But allowing Android Auto to integrate with a car’s integrated voice command – on compatible cars — would be nice.
The Pros and Cons of Apple CarPlay
Apple CarPlay is available on fewer models of car than Android Auto. But it’s close. CarPlay is available on 400 different car models, so there’s a good chance yours is one of them. Here is the complete list.
CarPlay is more responsive to voice commands than Android Auto because Siri takes commands directly from your car’s integrated input. For users with older cars, though, this means you’ll have to perform most Siri functions manually.
The CarPlay user interface is also a bit nicer, with larger icons and a design that’s closer to iOS than Android Auto is to the regular Android OS. That said, CarPlay supports fewer apps than Android Auto, though this may simply be because Android supports more apps in general.
Android Auto Vs Apple CarPlay: Which One to Choose?
First and foremost, you’ll want to see if your car is compatible. If you’re buying a new car, please don’t make this the deciding factor in your auto purchase. Smartphone integration is nice, but there are other car features that are more important.
That said, if you’re lucky enough to have a choice between the two, consider what you’ll be doing with it.
If you’re using your phone for business – making a lot of calls, sending a lot of texts – Apple CarPlay is probably the better choice. Provided you have a compatible car, the voice commands are just easier, and you’ll spend less time repeating yourself when trying to make a call.
If you’re using your car primarily for traveling, Android Auto makes more sense for most people. It’s compatible with more apps, and the Google Maps notification feature is a huge plus when you’re driving to unfamiliar places.
In the end, it also comes down to what smartphone you have. If you have an iPhone, Apple CarPlay will be better as it will integrate with your phone and vice versa with an Android phone. And if your car doesn’t have Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, do not worry. You can buy head units with these features, just check out the best double din head units buying guide from us at Greatest Speakers, to find a head unit that fit your needs!