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Android Auto 1, CarPlay 0: Apple Must Act Fast

CarPlay and Android Auto 6 photos
Photo: Bogdan Popa/autoevolution
CarPlay interfaceCarPlay interfaceCarPlay interfaceCarPlay interfaceCarPlay interface
Android Auto and CarPlay have long been battling for the same audience, with the main difference mostly coming down to the platform drivers were using outside the car.
Android Auto was the choice of Android users, while CarPlay was the go-to option for people committed to the Apple ecosystem.

However, as Android Auto and CarPlay became more popular, they also turned into sales catalysts for the two platforms. It's not a secret that some people bought an iPhone specifically for CarPlay, while others gave up on their Apple smartphones because they wanted the freedom they'd get with a switch to Android Auto.

The out-of-the-box experience is similar on Android Auto and CarPlay. They are powered by a mobile phone connected to the vehicle's infotainment screen. The supported app categories are also similar, as they allow users to run navigation software and music apps, make phone calls, and send and receive messages using the integrated digital assistant.

Android Auto is now taking the lead, making CarPlay feel old and outdated.

CarPlay interface
Photo: Florin Profir/autoevolution
I've long been part of the CarPlay world, connecting my phone to the vehicle every time I get behind the wheel. I use CarPlay wirelessly, so my iPhone connects to the car automatically, launching Apple's in-vehicle experience without any input on my side.

CarPlay has been my driving companion for several years, and let me tell you one thing. I don't feel like CarPlay has evolved at all in the last few years, and while consistency is typically a good thing, as it contributes to a more refined experience, everything on Apple's platform starts feeling obsolete.

Apple continues to update CarPlay through iOS updates, meaning that we must always wait for the company to come up with a new version of the iPhone operating system to get something new in the car. However, the Cupertino-based tech giant has barely paid attention to CarPlay in the last major iOS updates, likely as its automotive ambitions revolved around the Apple Car.

CarPlay interface
Photo: Florin Profir/autoevolution
The vehicle development has already been abandoned, so Apple is left with an outdated CarPlay that must be upgraded overnight. That won't be possible, and I hope Apple proves me wrong at WWDC next month, but Android Auto is becoming more and more like the CarPlay rival the iPhone maker never wanted.

Android Auto evolves at an amazing pace, with I/O bringing several long-overdue announcements that make Google's in-car experience appealing even for Apple users. As I said earlier, Android Auto and CarPlay are now becoming a reason to choose one side, so I wouldn't be surprised to see some Apple users getting a Google-powered Android phone because of the upgraded experience behind the wheel.

The biggest Android Auto comes down to what users love and need the most: apps. Google has found a way to bring more apps to Android Auto and Android Automotive, announcing a project that will allow apps published on the Google Play Store and developed for large screens to make their way to the two platforms automatically.

CarPlay interface
Photo: Florin Profir/autoevolution
The search giant will start reviewing apps built for large screens in the Play Store to determine if they are prepared for the driving experience. If they can be used by drivers, either when the car is parked or when using voice commands or other driving-optimized features, they will be enabled on Android Auto and Android Automotive automatically.

Considering the number of apps on the Google Play Store, this is a major overhaul of the app ecosystem on Android Auto. The CarPlay app collection is also growing, but you can imagine how many apps will land on Android Auto once Google kicks off this project.

The search behemoth also announced new app categories for Android Auto, including video apps, games, and browsers. Google and Apple have ignored requests for apps like YouTube for years, and the search firm now proves that it got the feedback. In pure Apple style, the iPhone maker has remained tight-lipped on its plans.

CarPlay interface
Photo: Florin Profir/autoevolution
With more apps, games, and browsers on Android Auto, Google is slowly but surely achieving something that it aimed for from the beginning. Android Auto is becoming a more obvious extension for Android, keeping users locked into the ecosystem when they get behind the wheel.

We spend more time in our cars than ever, and everybody seems to get this, including carmakers, who are now willing to pour millions of dollars into software development. Everybody gets this. Everybody but Apple, as the iPhone maker's stubbornness and frustrating obsession with a locked garden gives CarPlay no chance in the fight against Android Auto.

Apple must act fast, not only on the CarPlay front but also in everything involving its automotive strategy. CarPlay 2.0 is late to the party at a time when Android Automotive is seeing increasing adoption numbers, and once again, Apple chooses to remain silent on this front. WWDC can be either a turning point for Apple when the company could release big announcements for the car experience or the moment when it becomes more obvious to everybody that Android Auto has won the fight.
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About the author: Bogdan Popa
Bogdan Popa profile photo

Bogdan keeps an eye on how technology is taking over the car world. His long-term goals are buying an 18-wheeler because he needs more space for his kid’s toys, and convincing Google and Apple that Android Auto and CarPlay deserve at least as much attention as their phones.
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