Smartphone compatibility is a key feature found in many new cars. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto have been around for a few years so it’s a good feature to look for in used cars too. The technology enables the car’s infotainment screen to mirror smartphone apps and functionality. For cars with less intuitive infotainment systems these features can make it a lot easier to play music, operate a sat nav and make calls.
Both systems are compatible with apps such as Google Maps, Waze, Spotify and WhatsApp. This makes it easier (and legal) to use these apps on the go. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are operated via the car’s touchscreen or rotary dial. Whilst these are now widely available in new and used cars, if a car doesn’t have this feature some aftermarket radios provide this compatibility.
Always make sure to look at the trim level that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard. Some vehicles will only have these on higher trim levels or as an optional extra.
As the name suggests, Apple CarPlay is the smartphone mirroring tech for Apple phones, compatible with devices from the iPhone 5 upwards. Depending on the car, the system works by connecting wirelessly or with a USB cable.
Apple CarPlay is operated via the car’s touchscreen, rotary dial or Apple’s voice control Siri. Just like on the iPhone, Siri can answer questions, make calls and write dictated messages, in theory making using the system less distracting. The display itself looks very similar to the iPhone home screen with the same app icons.
Most vehicles with Apple CarPlay currently allow users to access it for free. For a small period of time BMW charged customers a subscription fee to utilise the software. Whilst they later reversed this decision to make it free again, some manufacturers are starting to charge subscription fees to use certain vehicle functions, this could at some point include smartphone compatibility features.
Connected via a USB cable or wirelessly, Android Auto is the smartphone mirroring system for Android phones. It’s largely the same as Apple CarPlay, reconfiguring the phone’s approved apps onto the infotainment screen. Both systems don’t give the user access to all apps installed on the phone as apps have to be qualified as not too distracting for use while the car is moving. Some apps like YouTube are only available when the car is stationary.
Just like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto comes with voice control in the form of Google assistant that’s activated by saying “Hey Google”. This can be used to read out and reply to messages, initiate phone calls, set destinations and add calendar reminders.
Both systems are integrated into the car by utilising the vehicle’s inbuilt microphones and some cars have buttons on the steering wheel that can be used to interact with the interface. This also future-proofs infotainment systems as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are regularly updated to stay compatible with the latest technology so even if the car’s native infotainment is looking dated, the smartphone mirroring capabilities will always be up to date.