Google vs. Apple: Bringing the Smartphone War to Your Car

Source: Honda

As shoppers go to the lot to check out late-model vehicles and their high-design infotainment systems, they may not be thinking about how these systems interact with the smartphone auto services provided by big technology companies or whether or not they will have to “pick a side” sometime in the future. But in a lot of cases, problems with integration are going to influence consumer choices in a big way.

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are smartphone interfaces designed to work on new vehicle touchscreens. The idea is that you can plug in your smartphone and take advantage of company-specific apps and services from the convenience of your vehicle cabin, without looking at your phone. Of course, these tools have to have safety features built into prevent drivers from trying to do too much computing while they are also driving the car.

In theory, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay should be able to work flawlessly with the native or OEM infotainment systems in various makes of vehicles. But in practice, the situation’s a little more tricky.

What lots of new car owners are likely to find as they settle into their purchases is that in some cases, there will be discrepancies and glitches between the two types of systems. For instance, a text notification from Android Auto or Apple CarPlay may not show up in the native system — or there may be other problems porting data or using controls cross-platform.

Source: Google I/O conference video screenshot
Source: Google I/O conference video screenshot

So how do people handle blending their smart phone systems with their new vehicle digital dashboard, and what are the common outcomes? A new study by Strategy Analytics looks at usability issues for Android Auto in the Hyundai Sonata. This and other studies show some common trends in vehicle infotainment choices.

What the Strategy Analytics study found with the Hyundai Sonata and Android Auto is that Google’s system was vastly preferable to users, and because of that, users are likely to use Android Auto over an OEM.

Although a November 5 press release for the study cites some user confusion with Android Auto, especially on the ‘rules of the road’ for what will work with native systems, it also contends that “consumers overwhelmingly preferred the user experience provided by Android Auto…the interactions were smoother, quicker, and had fewer usability issues.”

To follow up, we caught up with study author Chris Schreiner.

“OEMs have struggled,” Schreiner said, citing a lack of updates for infotainment systems that can lead to bugs or glitches. The model year approach to design, he said, is not ideal for trying to develop iterative software systems for end-users. Meanwhile, Google and Apple, both of which have vast experience in release methodology, seem to be running circles around engineers for the car companies.

Schreiner added that one issue is the time that it takes for users to go in and manually load navigation and other information in text boxes with native OEM car systems. By contrast, Google offers an “autocorrect” or “guessing” input feature that helps reduce the time and effort it takes to input information – and for drivers who have a destination in mind, that time can be very valuable.

In general, he said, users just found Google’s platform to be more user-friendly, and the interface to be easier to work with. This could be a valuable proposition for companies which have suffered from infotainment system woes in the past, as they look to sell vehicles to new generation of consumer.