Apple’s CarPlay App Review: Road To Perfection

Car stereos or just stereo systems have gone through a sea of changes in terms of how the technology is used in every way. It has made way to a more sophisticated version commonly known as the “infotainment system”. So what exactly is an infotainment system? Nowadays a car stereo isn’t a simple car stereo anymore, it packs a whole lot of punch which includes music, navigation, Bluetooth, speakerphone, movie screens and a whole lot of features augmented through physical buttons as well as touchscreens. Most of the factory fitted kits are now touchscreens and are very desirable to customers and tech savvy people like us. But there is a catch, apart from the touchscreens inbuilt on our cars there is a very important thing without which we cannot make our day and that is a smartphone. This particular machine has changed how we look at things and is an essential part of our day to day lives. Apart from its good things, it offers a lot of distraction while driving a vehicle making it very dangerous and sometimes fatal too. This is where Apple’s CarPlay App comes in and steals the show. It mixes my iPhone with my infotainment system to make it more desirable.

So, What Is the Apple CarPlay App?

It is a standard developed by none other than Apple to connect iOS compatible devices with your factory fitted infotainment display units. Though it is not an in-car system that lets you run the iOS apps, it is mainly a system which links to all your digital gadgets allowing you to take control of them and your device a in the safest way possible. You can use all the functionalities of your iPhone through your touch screen of your car’s entertainment system without getting distracted. It is basically a process by which you can bypass the old infamous habit of driving your car with the eyes off the road or that’s somewhat the idea anyway.

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The Idea

When I first got the demonstration of this lively app from Apple I was hooked on to the idea of all the essential iOS apps accessible right from my car’s dashboard but it was still under development. So I was also sure that this will be updated and improved with more features soon so as to make it better for users like us. And I was bang on the target. When Pioneer revealed their NEX series of dash infotainment system that could be updated with the CarPlay App, I was ecstatic and bought it right away. Pioneer is looking to launch new aftermarket devices in 2015 too. Now there are options from Kenwood and we can also expect many companies to join the cue as well.  There are top-end car companies which joined hands with Apple and will be offering CarPlay app inbuilt onto the dashboard system. So if you want a CarPlay app right now then the choice is limited and expensive too but it surely has the power to change the flow of things and save lives on its way keeping aside the bugs. Yes, it is buggy! And this is what makes Apple’s take on car infotainment system a little bit sluggish.

Siri And The Working Formula

The idea of using your iPhone’s functionality without touching it and that inside your own car is really exciting isn’t it? I also thought the same way. But the buggy nature of the app does not help. Keeping that aside, after using it for quite a long time I controlled this system with all its three options that is using Siri, using the touchscreen display and last but not the least using the knobs or the physical buttons.

  • Siri: Many of us know who or what is Siri, especially the iPhone owners. Being the intelligent personal assistant and the reliable navigator for all iPhone owners like us, Siri can’t be missed in the CarPlay App, and much to my delight it is much better and improved in this avatar. The interaction has improved by leaps and bounds. Inside the car it acts a co-pilot or a knowledgeable navigator who can find you a restaurant or a coffee shop very easily and even read out messages and call for you, now that’s cool isn’t it. It can do almost all things and can help you with many things without you being stopped or distracted. I guess this is the best way to control as it safer that way.
  • Using the touchscreen display: Apart from using Siri, you can bypass Siri and can handle the messages, phone calls etc by your own by pulling over and without touching your phone. This is the most straightforward method to control it so you can expect touchscreen options in new car models.
  • Using the knobs: The most conventional way of using it. I used it, I liked it because of its simplicity, but there is a lot of scope of improvement. Though you can still use touchscreens and Siri alongside it.

Coming to Siri, it is very intelligent and efficient and it is a great option to use it as it can do almost anything for you like play music, give you directions, read and send messages, call for you, offer you with ETA (estimated time remaining) etc. I know you are thinking, that a navigator can take you home, yes, of course, it can, but it won’t drive you home. It will offer you the best route or the best directions so that you can reach home without any issue, but it can’t drive you home, right? This is where the effectiveness of Siri comes to a screeching halt. If you utter to Siri to drive you home, it won’t show directions. It would utter something like “you are having a laugh, aren’t you?” I for one got many sarcastic replies till date. Siri works with the help of cloud or rather relies on the connection with cloud, so it takes some time to answer a question that can be annoying if you are in hurry and driving down the road at 60 miles per hour.

The Apps And How Does It Work

Phone

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By just pressing the green phone icon on the dashboard screen Siri will immediately come to you life and will ask you something like “Who would you like to call?” or something close to this. I dictated a name from my contact list, and Siri placed the call almost instantly, it is just as easy as that and I was very impressed with the efficiency and the accuracy it showed.

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If you do not want to interact with Siri, that’s completely okay, too. You can bypass Siri and scroll your contacts using the touchscreen and call him/her whenever or wherever required.

Messages

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Messaging using the CarPlay is got to be the most important feature and it does not disappoint either. It is my most favorite feature. CarPlay’s Messages app is a great step forward for interactive interfaces. While you are on the road and you are connected to CarPlay a message arrives on your phone, an alert will appear at the top of the dashboard screen, no matter what you’re doing.

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Though it is completely at your discretion whether to view the message, but if you want to, Siri will first inquire if you want the message read to you. I responded, first I was given the option to review my response just to make sure that Siri got it right and change it if it is necessary. This is a huge advantage as Siri would read out the messages and even reply to it as well.

And all this without even touching the phone, now that’s something really good!

Maps

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Here also it passed my test. It has some clever features like the Messages are integrated with the Maps app with the help of which addresses can be stored easily for future references.

The Maps app can easily access the contact list and also Messages for addresses, that’s something that you won’t get on the best of the map guides available in the market. Need a coffee joint just utter it to Siri and it will surely help. The Maps are not as accurate, but the improvements can happen over time as maps are regularly updated. It is not the best in terms of the navigational prowess, but it is surely one of the best.

Music and Podcast

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This is just like I expected, with iTunes taking the center stage and clicking all the right boxes. You can move and shuffle through the songs, albums, artists as well. I for one like the smoked out feature of the album art when a song is being played behind, what it does is that it adds that little Apple signature to it. Nice and very efficient.

Third-Party Apps

This is where CarPlay becomes weak though there are third-party apps like Spotify, iHeartRadio Tune in radio etc it does not work and a simple use Spotify crashed my unit and rest is history. So for now don’t expect Spotify to work, just hope that Apple does something on that in future so as to make it more usable. It is more likely that things like this would be corrected and duly updated. There is hope for many apps to follow suit as well. And I think to make this successful; third-party apps can make a huge difference to the overall package.

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Coming to the connecting your iPhone to the infotainment system, at the WWDC 2015 Apple announced that it is going to be wireless this time and will no longer require you to use USB port or the lightning cable phones so as to connect with the dashboard system. This is really good news as it will give way to a hassle-free experience. But currently apart from the charging advantage the whole USB wired thing is very annoying sometimes, as it gets clumsy on the inside. Apart from this there is also news of many automobiles companies like General Motors, BMW, Subaru, Chrysler, Honda, Nissan, Jaguar, Volkswagen, Fiat and many others shaking hands with Apple so as to make their cars inbuilt with CarPlay right out of the factory. As per news Ferrari, Volvo, Hyundai will showcase their products with CarPlay added in the latter half of 2015. Ferrari already said that they are offering CarPlay on the 2016 models with requests from customers; Hyundai, on the other hand, said that its Sonata will come out with CarPlay. Apart from car companies, companies like Alpine, Kenwood and Pioneer have already started making infotainment system with CarPlay app. So many big companies showing interest on something under development got to mean something and that sounds really promising indeed!

Conclusion

CarPlay in its present form is still far from being desirable in terms of its overall usability and efficiency. It will have to go a long way for perfection. This is because of its system bugs which hamper the overall efficiency of the whole app. The stuttering of the interface and the slow response times surely needs to be overhauled.  Apart from this, insertion of third party apps and some little bit of polishing can make this app a game changer in the infotainment industry.

Keeping aside all this, after using it and testing it extensively, I think this is still better than our regular interactive interfaces owing to the fact that it is fully capable and fully loaded with features that can really help people like us to perform our day to day activities safely. Even with its bugs and quirks, it is a fun tool which offers services that you want from your phone safely while you are driving. I recommend taking it out for a spin and upgrade to CarPlay. With many more companies opting for it in the coming months, Apple may have a winner in their hands if they play it right!

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