Unheard of until just 17 months ago, the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration systems are gaining automakers at a brisk pace. GM claims it has the industry’s largest rollout, with 14 models from Chevrolet alone adding CarPlay and Android Auto for 2016. They include the Cruze, Silverado, Corvette and Tahoe. Together, those 14 cars account for about half of Chevrolet’s global sales.
Such services turn the car into what OnStar Chief Operating Officer Terry Inch calls a “network access device” accessible by anyone with an iPhone or Android smartphone. Inch works for GM’s 19-year-old telematics division, whose 4G LTE Wi-Fi service has gone into more than half a million cars since GM rolled it out in 2014.
We spoke with Inch and also had a chance to see the in-car systems up close in a 2016 Chevrolet Spark.
Here’s what we learned.
It’s like your smartphone, sort of. You have to download an app for Android Auto, but CarPlay works right away from any late-model iPhone. Connect your phone, and an icon pops up on the Spark’s dashboard screen that opens a portal to a simplified interface from your smartphone. If you want to navigate anywhere, Google Maps and Apple Maps do the trick. Well, kind of.
Both portals only offer their own proprietary navigation, so even if you have Google Maps on your iPhone, CarPlay won’t fire it up. GM later confirmed that’s the case for the near term, but “it’s not to say it won’t change down the line,” spokesman Stuart Fowle told us.
Google Maps provides a similar experience to the smartphone interface, including pinching or swiping to zoom in or scroll around the map. It’s responsive as far as in-car navigation goes, but it isn’t as fast as on the phone itself.
Apple Maps is significantly worse. Gone are the pinching and swiping, replaced by old-school onscreen buttons to creep — slowly — around your location and zoom in or out in halting steps. You can still tell Siri where you want to go and get a route with turn-by-turn directions, but something was lost in translation.