Posted by Jim Martin 21 January 2015
CarPlay and Android Auto: only a stepping stone to a fully connected car
As ever, CES was full of great new technology this year with wearable tech almost drowning out the noise from the 4K TV brigade. However, there’s something more interesting arriving in the cavernous halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center: car tech.
I say that not because I’m a car nut (I am) but because over the last few years car makers have turned their attention to technology in pursuit of selling us all a new car. In fact, Apple and Google are also getting in on the act with CarPlay and Android Auto. (See also: Hands on with the Pioneer SPH-DA120)
However, having seen these systems in action it’s clear that there’s still plenty of work to do. For a start, they’re relatively limited in what they can do. CarPlay and Android Auto replicate only certain functions of your iPhone or Android Lollipop smartphone and aren’t really integrated with the car at all.
If I was being particularly harsh, I’d say they’re little more than glorified hands-free kits which use the bigger screen of the infotainment system. That’s only slightly safer than looking at your phone’s screen while driving.
It’s a good start, but I’m sure we’ll look back in a few years and see that CarPlay and Android Auto were stepping stones to a fully connected and intelligent car. Part of the issue is that there’s a disconnect between the car’s systems and your smartphone’s.
Some systems are already pretty sophisticated and let you use a touchscreen in place of physical buttons to turn on climate control, for example, switch between the various cameras mounted on the exterior and even monitor tyre pressures and other safety systems.
What’s needed is a standard way to add your smartphone’s capabilities without needing a different interface. You should be able to use natural language to do anything you like, from making a phone call, setting the aircon to 17 degrees to finding the best recharging station for your electric car’s battery or booking a hotel room as you drive.
Parrot offered a glimpse of the future at CES this year with its new infotainment system codenamed RNB6. It works with both CarPlay and Android Auto, and makes great strides to better car integration as well. It won’t work with every car but it will hook into the vehicle’s ‘network’ and provide control over some functions, such as climate control, and also driver assistance including parking sensors and cameras. It’s the first to include a dash cam, too, which records as you drive so there’s evidence in the event of an accident.
Even this isn’t the definition of a fully connected car. There’s loads of other technology on the horizon, including vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication. If that sounds boring, it really isn’t. It means that regardless of whether we end up with driverless cars or not, there will be new safety systems which could significantly reduce the number of collisions on the roads.
Humans are easily distracted, but if your car senses that you’re about to drive through a red traffic light it can automatically brake. This requires ‘smart’ traffic lights, but tests are already being done by Ford and others to make this a reality. Similarly, a vehicle-to-vehicle network could help ease congestion since all cars will be able to regulate their speeds and drive closer to each other without the risk of crashing. Current adaptive cruise-control systems are good, but they can’t prevent those annoying stop-start traffic jams that we all hate.
It’s bound to take years until standards in place and even longer until your car and the traffic lights on your high-street are actually using them, so CarPlay and Android Auto will undoubtedly become more popular in the meantime.