My Week With Apple CarPlay

Published On November 3, 2015 | Feature, Reviews

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Having finally had CarPlay installed last week, with the help of Alpine and in-car specialists, Huets and Celsus, I thought it would be good to create a regular article that wraps-up my experiences of using Apple’s CarPlay over the course of a week, month, three months etc. So to start, here is my thoughts on using CarPlay over the last week.

First, it is probably best to first say that I had come from an stock Audi Audio Navigation Plus stereo system in my Audi TT Mk2. This had a 6.5″ (800 x 480) colour display with a DVD-based GPS navigation and an Audi Music Interface (AMI) in the glovebox that allowed me to connect an Tune2Air Bluetooth receiver to stream my iPhone’s music to. It was great at first, but after a few recent iOS updates (since the introduction of Apple Music), things started to get buggy and unreliable, so I thought it was now time to move on and replace this system with a new CarPlay headunit, an Alpine ILX-700.

Initial Impressions

Day one impressions were amazing, overwhelming in fact. I had downloaded every CarPlay enabled app from the AppStore that I could find to see how far I could take this CarPlay experience. Some apps did leave me a little underwhelmed, yet some apps and their behaviours enhanced my in-car experience.

Switching to Apple Maps from Google Maps

The one major improvement that comes to mind is Apple Maps. Yup, it was surprise to me too! Google Maps has been my ‘go to’ maps app of choice, however with CarPlay we don’t have the luxury of any maps apps other than Apple’s own.

What I liked about having Apple’s Maps app, your digital life (Calendar/Schedule) and CarPlay, was Apple’s contextual notifications and updates, based on your location and past behaviours.

I had a situation when I jumped in the car, opened Apple Maps and was asked ‘Heading back to work?’ one morning. Wow, it was right! The route was already laid out for me, and an ETA of my arrival was displayed in the corner – this easily brought a smile to my face. It was more of a personal experience than my Audi Sat-Nav could ever try to achieve!

CarPlay + Spotify Woes

My most used App during the week was Spotify; handling my main source of music for my commute into and from work. This is when my first CarPlay niggles started to show.

Unless I had the app running and a playlist already ready loaded prior to getting into the car, it wasn’t as smooth getting to a playlist or order as quickly as I could when using Spotify on the iPhone over Bluetooth.

Sometimes I’d loose audio completely too and would have to reconnect the phone, and navigating though playlists and song menus would bounce my navigation back to a previous screen, like I was going too fast for my phone to process its results – I wasn’t.

This is purely down to Spotify’s own integration of CarPlay, and not CarPlay itself. It is something Spotify’s developers need to spend a little more time on in my opinion.

Bad CarPlay Apps

The one thing i’ve noticed over the week is just how bad some of the CarPlay integration from app developers has been.

Free radio apps have to pay the bills, I know, but they are littered with notifications and full-screen ads, all of which stop the app from launching and playing its content on CarPlay, until you realise this and open the app on the phone to dismiss said notification or running advert.

Developers should stick to on-screen banners rather than video ads and nagging notification screens, and let the CarPlay experience just work as intended.

Slow to Display Content

There is still a little time before CarPlay displays an app’s contents on the CarPlay display. If you have not ran the selected app for a while, you’ll have be waiting a few seconds more (which can feel like a lifetime), staring at an empty grey screen until the app is fully loaded and can sent lists and menu contents to your CarPlay screen. This is made worse if the app requires a data connection to fetch and stream live radio or online music that isn’t locally stored on your device.

Many applications do not display any loading wheels on the CarPlay screen during the loading and fetching of data, and doing this alone would greatly help reduce the frustration and the impression that the app has already crashed or stopped working.

Siri CarPlay

Siri, The ‘Hands-Free’ Assistant

Siri can be handy whilst driving at the wheel. More so if you turn on the ‘Hey Siri’ function in your iPhone’s Siri settings. Sadly though, I was surprised when asking Siri things like the weather, that the display doesn’t show an ‘at-a-glance’ summary of what Siri responds with.

There are no weather symbols for the day when asking Siri the weather or sports logos when asking Siri for a match outcome. These are all features we’ve come to expect with Siri on the iPhone, yet they are missing whilst you’re at the wheel. Yes, there is the argument that these can prove to be distractions, but handled correctly with minimal ‘glance’ symbols of information is enough – you could say browsing through its own menu lists can be more distracting at times!

The same issues can be said with messaging. I would have expected to see the message’s text that I’ve composed to be displayed on screen, or text from a message displayed as well as narrated by Siri, but no, just a list of previous message contact names and a hope that Siri has managed to narrate my text well enough to for the recipient to understand it. Displaying this information could be done by tracking your speed or use of the handbrake, like how watching DVD movies do whilst stationary.

Calling 

Calling is easy as it is whilst hands-free on the iPhone, using Siri. Buttons are clear on the CarPlay display, and getting Siri to call your contacts is faultless. Being able to add contacts into the call with the add button on the display also helps to gather callers together into one conference call, whilst on the move.

Apple Music & Music Playback

It is a shame my Apple Music subscription ran out before getting CarPlay installed, but after some poking around I was able to find and list the Apple Beats 1 radio channel for free.

Being a native music app, the interface is an improvement over some third-party players, such a Spotify. However I feel this is Apple’s own doing.

I hope third-party music app developers take note and apply similar features, such as favouriting a track, applying loop or shuffle on the Now Playing screen.

I also think it would be more impactful to display clear album art in the music player (rather than a blurred background) and allow itself to be a button, to maybe access a full list of the playing album’s tracks or some deeper functionality. Having the track, artist name and slightly oversized controls seems a little lacklustre.

CarPlay Has Still Some Way to Go

In time, I hope Apple continue to improve on the CarPlay user interface, to help improve upon its, sometimes frustrating, user experience, making it more intuitive to use.

App launch speed and navigation will improve with software updates and keeping used applications in device memory for longer with future iPhones having more memory available. I hope third-party apps like Spotify continue to evolve and that Apple allow more customisation of the screen for developers to use than the stock scroll lists and music player interfaces.

Over the coming weeks, look out for my reviews of each CarPlay enabled app, where I will give my overall views on them and suggestions on how they could be improved. I have learnt a lot about what CarPlay can do over the last week of using it, and I look forward to probing more what CarPlay and its apps have to offer in the coming weeks.

I’ll be back again in a month’s time with more CarPlay views and experiences!