CarPlay introduced the feature with the debut of iOS 13 in 2019, allowing users to run multiple apps side-by-side on the same screen. The Dashboard was a brilliant idea, as the limited screen estate on infotainment displays no longer forced users to stick with a single app. The interface was divided into cards, and each car was assigned to a specific app category.
Navigation apps, music players, streaming services, and phone calls used cards to run on the same screen simultaneously, and users were allowed to switch to the full-screen interface with a single tap.
Google launched the Android Auto Coolwalk update in January this year after unveiling it in 2022. Coolwalk is based on a Dashboard-inspired approach, using cards to let multiple apps run side-by-side regardless of the screen size and aspect ratio. Coolwalk also introduced further tweaks compared to the CarPlay Dashboard, including support for a weather card to display the current temperature on the infotainment unit.
A top feature request
Users can choose only from these backgrounds, typically abstract backgrounds mixing various colors. They look good, but sooner or later, they become redundant, and users change them, aiming for a fresh look on the infotainment screen.
Google and Apple sometimes add new wallpapers with software updates, expanding the background collection with more pre-loaded items.
However, both companies ignore support for custom wallpaper support. Android Auto and CarPlay do not allow users to configure an image stored on their smartphones as the background in their cars, despite it being a top feature request in both ecosystems.
Adding custom wallpaper support on Android Auto and CarPlay shouldn't be such a big deal, though I'm being told Google has ignored the request so far because of potential memory and security problems. I'm sure Apple is in the same boat, as allowing custom images could cause glitches both companies could avoid by simply not enabling the feature.
The Mountain View-based search giant will also enable users to use a phone wallpaper as the Android Auto background. It means that the wallpaper on your lock screen or home screen (on the smartphone) can sync with Android Auto, allowing the same image to become the background on the infotainment display, too.
The work on this feature is still in the early phases, and evidence of its existence was spotted in the latest Android Auto builds. The search firm has remained tight-lipped on its plans, so it's impossible to anticipate when it could start rolling out to users. I asked my contacts at Google about this feature, and nobody could even confirm its existence, so the wallpaper sync support is probably still on the drawing board, with no substantial resources currently directed at making it happen.
It doesn't mean users can't set their photos as backgrounds when connecting smartphones to the infotainment systems. They can, but the methods aren't always aimed at the less tech-savvy.
While Google is already working on enhanced wallpaper capabilities, Apple doesn't seem interested in improving CarPlay in this direction. The company's in-car experience has received minor updates lately, and the debut of iOS 17 focused mostly on mobile users rather than drivers.
The custom wallpaper support might look like a waste of time and resources for users interested in other capabilities, but it's an essential customization option that should have been there from the beginning. Users love customization settings, as they let them tweak Android Auto and CarPlay to feel more personal and unique.
Neither Google nor Apple invest in customization options, forcing users to stick with almost the default setup in their cars. With software and the infotainment experience becoming integral for the driving experience in new-generation vehicles, I expect both companies to focus more on these features, especially considering that Android Automotive gains more ground and CarPlay 2.0 is around the corner.