Apple CarPlay vs Android Auto vs MirrorLink< Back to blog
Cars have come a long way since CD players and tape decks. Innovative infotainment systems such as Audi Connect, BMW iDrive and Mercedes-Benz’s MBUX dominate vehicle tech. However, plush displays and built-in satnavs are being challenged by the leading tech companies’ creation of a simple and convenient method which connects your smartphone to your motor’s interface.
Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink are available in various models of car. But which one is right for you?
Without a doubt the most popular smartphone connectivity within your car is Apple CarPlay, simply because of the iPhone’s status as the leading smartphone on the market. But how does it perform in your car?
Launched in 2014, Apple CarPlay is now available in every major car manufacturer. Audi, BMW, Citroen, Ford, Honda, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen – to name a few. It’s available in over 400 models of cars, so you’re far from restricted when it comes to deciding on a car. The idea is to have the convenience of your iPhone’s display featured on your car’s infotainment screen, which it does both legally and simply.
To activate Apple CarPlay, you will need an iPhone 5 model or later (iOS 7 software required), a USB cable, and a car which enables the software.
Once connected, the display is a refreshingly simple look, which looks almost identical to how your iPhone home screen would. The small grid layout means only the most important apps such as messages, phone and maps are displayed to avoid distraction. However, you can customise the interface so that apps such as Apple Music and iTunes feature on the first screen.
Apple CarPlay is very flexible when it comes to controls. You can operate the system through the touchscreen display, the dials on your car’s infotainment dash, or through Siri voice control. The latter features a button on your car’s steering wheel which you hold down, before making commands. The voice control is the safest way to navigate around the system without having to take your eyes or hands off the road. Siri will read out your incoming messages and voice mail, while also sending messages through your voice commands.
Although Apple CarPlay is simple to use, there are a few gripes we have with the system.
Unfortunately, a lot of third-party apps aren’t enabled for it due to Apple’s preferences. So, you’re rather limited to what can be featured on your display. The good news is that some of the most used applications are available. Spotify for music and WhatsApp for messaging, for example.
Apple Maps is the only navigation system available to use for CarPlay. Although it’s easier to use than most built-in satnavs, it doesn’t allow you to perform actions such as pinch-to-zoom. Instead, there is a ‘+’ and ‘-‘ button which can feel rather laggy.
Android Auto, as the name suggests, is the Android-compatible alternative to the smartphone car interface. It performs the exact same functions to its Apple counterpart, but with a different look and feel.
Voice control to send messages and make calls. Access to all your device’s music and podcasts. And an impressive satnav which builds upon standard car navigation. These are just a few of the perks of the smartphone mirroring system.
Android Auto was also launched back in 2014 and is available on all phones which are running Android Lollipop (5.0) or later. It’s most renowned for a slick user experience through Google Assistant voice control, while Google Maps and Waze for navigation gives you more of an option than CarPlay’s solo Apple Maps.
Unlike the predominantly apps-based interface of Apple CarPlay, Android Auto opts for a more traditional car infotainment display. Instead of featuring all your smartphone’s home screen apps in a grid-shape layout, Android Auto has shortcut buttons aligned across the bottom of the screen. These buttons include a phone symbol for calls and messages, a satnav and home button, as well as an option which switches the display back to your car’s standard system.
In a way, Android Auto’s setup is less simple to operate compared to Apple CarPlay. This is particularly true when using touchscreen, which the big-buttoned, logical setup of its rival does much better.
Accessibility is another bugbear when it comes to the Android phone syncing tech. Certain manufacturers simply don’t offer it as a standard feature or upgrade option, including popular brands such as BMW and Mini.
Depending on how obsessive you are with safety will decide whether this next one is a disadvantage or not. A restriction is placed on popular apps such as Spotify which means you can only browse through limited songs or albums while you’re driving. Trying to go beyond this will lead to a warning message telling you to pull over before continuing. It’s a slight inconvenience which is on all the options, but is most strict on Android Auto.
Unlike Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which are propriety, MirrorLink is maintained by the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC), after initially being invented by Nokia. MirrorLink connects its enabled smartphones to its enabled cars.
Rather than using each individual phone’s display for the interface, MirrorLink has one standard which is built for the purpose of safety – with large app icons on the display going a long way to achieving this.
Like its contemporary rivals, MirrorLink uses USB connectivity from your smartphone to connect to the infotainment screen, which requires the accompanying MirrorLink app (don’t worry, it’s free like the others).
Once connected, MirrorLink is like its Apple and Android counterparts in that it will only display apps which are MirrorLink-friendly. While these aren’t as well-known or wide scale as those in the App Store and Google Play Store, the limited option does mean less distracting clutter on your car’s display.
Unfortunately, there are very few connected apps on the MirrorLink system in comparison to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The chances are that you’ll opt for the more accessible Android alternative too, given that most these devices are available with both.
Design appears to have taken a backseat for safety, not least because a non-profit organisation concerned with protecting drivers heads it up. However, as positive as these decisions are for the sake of, the innovative look and faster processing speeds of the alternative tech is hard not to be swayed by.
Which one is for me?
It entirely depends on the smartphone you have, and the car. Having an iPhone makes the decision for you. MirrorLink supports smartphones using both the Symbian and Android systems.
Meanwhile, we encourage you to check standard features on any car you consider to see which, if any, infotainment system it comes with. You can do this online or it will be in the manual when you view it.
For the latest car news and reviews, check out our blog.