Apple CarPlay and Android Auto need to face automotive infotainment realities

Android Auto in Chevrolet Malibu dashboard courtesy of © General Motors (Chevrolet)

Android Auto in Chevrolet Malibu – could work more tightly with the vehicle’s infotainment system
© General Motors

I have read a few online reviews about the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto mobile infotainment platforms but some issues have come up concerning how these platforms work.

One key issue is to allow Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to work with the car infotainment system’s existing functionality. Typically, if you want to listen to broadcast radio, a CD or other source that the infotainment setup provides, you have to “switch out” of the Apple or Android platform to a “normal” car-radio mode. To the same extent, if you want to adjust the way your music sounds, you may have to switch away from these platforms.

It is also underscored with an increasing number of vehicles which implement the infotainment LCD screen for a trip-computer, secondary-gauges, HVAC or similar functionality. Then, if you want to use your smartphone in this level of functionality, you have to run an app supplied by the infotainment system’s manufacturer or vehicle builder.

This problem may have to be answered through the use of a “hook” app that works with the CarPlay or Android Auto platforms to provide access to existing sources and other functions provided by the infotainment system.

Such an app would require the creation of a virtual “source” for CarPlay or Android Auto multimedia apps that exists alongside the broadcast radio, the optical-disc player and other similar sources. An “information” source could exist for navigation, and notifications while a “communications” source works with the phone,  over-the-top communications apps like Viber and Skype, and the voice-driven personal assistant.

Realistic car stereo radio-cassette (12-1892) - 1981 catalog shot - RadioShackCatalogs.com

An example of one of the Realistic car stereos that came alive when you pushed a tape in irrespective of whether you had the radio on or off

This may have to cause behaviour like some car radio/cassette players of the late 70s and early 80s like just about all of the Pioneer, and Realistic (Radio Shack) model ranges. Here, these car stereos came alive and started playing a tape when you pushed that tape in the slot irrespective of whether you had the radio on or not, and completely shut down when you ejected that tape if you didn’t have the radio on before you had the tape playing. In the context of the AirPlay and Android Auto setups, if you did something like get Spotify, Pandora or TuneIn Radio going, the “hook” app would come alive with the sounds of that streaming audio app whether you had the car radio going or not.

It may also be about gaining control of the radio or other sources like tuning in stations, selecting preset stations or playing particular songs on a CD or USB stick. Similarly, it could be about adjusting the way the system sounds such as implementing a sound preset or increasing the bass or treble. The integrated systems may also have to be able to show information about the heating or trip computer such as fuel range or current temperature.

Apple and Google could improve this further by providing an application-programming-interface and driver model for managing local sources, sound adjustment and other functionality. This can open up paths to permit the creation of app-store apps that exploit these sources and functionalities further.

For example, the PowerAmp music player software for Android, which has integrated graphic-equaliser functionality could gain the ability to exchange equaliser presets with a car sound system’s graphic equaliser. Similarly, a radio app could support “universal dial” behaviour to allow you to tune to local radio stations using the car radio’s tuner but when you are away from your vehicle, it will choose the station’s Internet stream.

So what needs to happen is that Google and Apple need to work on ways to tie in their automotive extensions to their mobile operating platforms to simplify the way these platforms work with the infotainment systems and their extant sources.

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