Pioneer's Latest Media Receiver Makes Users Forget About Android Auto and CarPlay

Apple's data shows that nearly 80 percent of new-car buyers in the United States wouldn’t even consider getting a vehicle without CarPlay support.
The new Pioneer media receiver 7 photos
Photo: Pioneer
New Pioneer head unitNew Pioneer head unitNew Pioneer head unitNew Pioneer head unitNew Pioneer head unitNew Pioneer head unit
Google says Android Auto's adoption figures will soon include over 200 million vehicles, with more carmakers switching from the wired connectivity system to the wireless mode.

All these figures show that mobile phone projection has become an essential feature in new cars, and drivers are no longer interested in buying a model without it.

Thanks to the skyrocketing adoption of Android Auto and CarPlay, the third-party media receiver market has expanded significantly in the last few years, with companies like Pioneer, Kenwood, and Sony investing big in such products.

As such, users can get Android Auto and CarPlay even in older cars that didn’t roll off the assembly lines with such systems.

However, Pioneer seems to believe that a new-gen experience behind the wheel doesn’t always have to come down to Android Auto and CarPlay (and I'm pretty sure General Motors fully backs this statement as well).

The company's latest product, officially called DMH-AF555BT, launched with a massive display and a very intriguing feature package. The biggest omission, however, is the support for Android Auto and CarPlay.

New Pioneer head unit
Photo: Pioneer
With a floating 9-inch display, this media receiver can be installed in any car supporting a 2-DIN size chassis. The floating design allows for easy installation at any angle, providing full horizontal, vertical, and tilt adjustability. In other words, you can install Pioneer's device in any way you want at an angle that makes everything on the 9-inch screen easy to read, regardless of the dashboard's design.

The device has almost everything you'd need, including a USB port for listening to music stored on a flash drive, a rear AV input, a parking camera connector if you want to see real-time footage on the screen when you go in reverse, as well as RCA preamplifier outputs.

Now let's move to the part that most people are interested in.

Compared to most new-generation head units, Pioneer's new model does not come with Android Auto and CarPlay. The company didn’t believe this feature would be necessary for some reason, so it decided to go for the next big thing.

First and foremost, the DMH-AF555BT supports Bluetooth wireless connectivity. In other words, you can pair your phone with the head unit via Bluetooth and listen to your music wirelessly. The whole thing works pretty seamlessly, and the feature also gives you full control over incoming calls.

The star of the show is the WebLink integration. If you've never heard of WebLink, it's more or less an Android Auto and CarPlay alternative that allows you to access mobile apps using the screen in the dashboard. Using the dedicated WebLink Host app, users can stream mobile apps to the head unit just like on Android Auto and CarPlay. Many popular apps are already available on WebLink, including Waze.

Sure enough, while apps are still available on the display, you lose the full smartphone integration that's otherwise offered on Android Auto and CarPlay. If you want to get message and app notifications and make phone calls behind the wheel, you'll have to stick with Bluetooth support. Otherwise, WebLink serves its purpose just right, letting you listen to music using your favorite apps, navigate with the most popular choices, and so on.

New Pioneer head unit
Photo: Pioneer
For many people out there, the lack of Android Auto and CarPlay could be a deal-breaker, so Pioneer might be playing a risky game this time. To be honest, I'm not sure that DMH-AF555BT can convince too many people to buy it, but if you're not a big fan of Android Auto and CarPlay, this media receiver is certainly worth trying out.

The 9-inch floating display is fantastic, and as the owner of a car whose built-in screen measures just 7 inches, this difference feels huge. Navigation feels significantly upgraded on a larger screen, and so does any other app projected on the display.

Without a doubt, Pioneer wanted to build a product capable of delivering the essential feature lineup that drivers are typically interested in when getting behind the wheel. Android Auto and CarPlay would have been nice, but thanks to WebLink integration, Pioneer can offer a solid package at a more compelling price tag.

While the parent company describes smartphone compatibility as the main selling point, I think the 9-inch display is the sales catalyst this time. Time will tell if drivers can survive without Android Auto and CarPlay and go for WebLink, but given all the controversy around GM's decision to abandon phone projection, I'm pretty sure many drivers unwittingly resist the change.

DMH-AF555BT is only available in select European and Asian markets, with no plans to launch it in the United States just yet. Pricing varies by region, and Pioneer says interested customers should reach out to the local stores for such information.
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About the author: Bogdan Popa
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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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