The increasing availability of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity has brought the familiar, intuitive interfaces of the iOS and Android operating systems to the dashboards of many new cars. The technology has made it easier to more safely use your phone’s various capabilities when driving, but it’s also been a reminder of the shortcomings of some in-car multimedia interfaces.
Sometimes those interfaces end up affecting the usability of CarPlay and Android Auto. That’s the case in the 2019 Mazda CX-9 three-row SUV, which comes standard with the brand’s Mazda Connect multimedia system.
Mazda Connect includes a 7-inch touchscreen and a console knob controller. Touring and higher trims get an 8-inch touchscreen, plus CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. The knob controller is the primary interface for one key reason: Touchscreen functionality is disabled when the CX-9 is moving.
This screen lockout makes using the SUV’s newly available smartphone connectivity more difficult than it needs to be. With my iPhone connected to the CX-9’s USB port, Apple CarPlay’s familiar icons appeared on the dashboard screen, and the interface responded to taps and swipes — as long as I was stationary. When driving, you must use the knob controller to cycle through the icons — not ideal for a touchscreen-optimized interface like CarPlay or Android Auto. The knob controller works well enough, but Mazda’s decision to disable the touchscreen is still irritating.
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Mazda spokesman Tim Olson said the automaker has found that it’s more intuitive and safer to use the knob controller. Personally, I’d rather have the choice, but Mazda is doubling down on the control knob approach with the next generation of Mazda Connect, which does away with the touchscreen feature.
The new system is in the redesigned 2019 Mazda3 compact car, but the decision to drop the touchscreen didn’t sit well with us.
“Consumer surveys show owners prefer touchscreens over console controllers, and both smartphone integrations are optimized for the former,” said Senior Consumer Affairs Editor Kelsey Mays in his Mazda3 review. “Mazda is going the wrong way here.”
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