I recently bought a 2016 VW Golf R. I deliberately skipped buying the in car Navigation system because I knew the 2016 model came with an Apple CarPlay enabled radio - I could simply plug in my iPhone (boo no wireless CarPlay support in VWs) and get navigation and access to my contacts, along with my music on my phone. Since I use Amazon Prime music, this seemed like a great solution and saved me some money, over buying the model with the navigation, since it had a bunch of other stuff bundled with it (about $2245 extra.) .
However, my experience with CarPlay, at least the VW implementation leads me to think that it's still pretty early in it's development cycle and might be a great thing in sometime. Now, I'm curious to see if Android Auto is better or worse. When it works, I'm about 80-90% happy with it, but unfortunately that is not all of the time. Lots of times I get connection glitches that require a hard reboot of either the phone or the car, or both. This is not just turning the car all the way off, rather locking it and walking away so the electronics fully shut down, and coming back 30+ minutes later.
First, the good. CarPlay is designed such that the radio in the car doesn't have much intelligence - it serves more as a pure display and sound amplifier for the phone. This makes a ton of sense to me, because you might only upgrade your car every 3-5 years (if you're normal) and your smartphone on a much more regular cadence. This, in theory, keeps the in car entertainment and navigation fresh as smart phones get better, and reduces the redundancy (the car doesn't need it's own GPS system or enough horsepower to compute routes, and understand speech.)
When you plug the phone into USB, through a Lightning cable, you're quickly greeted with this screen. From here, you can access contacts (through the Phone) and your Music (including Apple Music, and any music you have stored on your phone, plus Apple Radio, etc). Maps opens up Apple Maps on the dashboard (and your Phone) and will suggest navigation directions or you can hold the button and ask Siri for you. Unfortunately, Google Now still beats out Siri in terms of intelligence. BMW has, built in, the ability to call out to Google Maps and it's the best in car point of interest (POI) entry I've heard, it even recognizes Asian restaurant names. Messages will read you incoming text messages and allow you to dictate to Siri responses (usually hilariously but sometimes disastrously wrong) to individuals or groups who message you. This is cool, except that it covers a good portion of the navigation screen and can't be disabled.
Now playing is controls for music that is playing, if you manually browse to (or were listening to, when you get into the car) Spotify, Pandora, IHeartRadio, or Amazon Prime, you can pause, and skip forward or backwards here. Or if you start something from Apple Music, this serves as the control screen for it. Volkswagen leverages an app I haven't installed, and Podcasts and Audiobooks allows for playback of both.
This all works fine and dandy and is extremely familiar to anyone that has used an iPhone. There is even a Home button with the familiar rounded square icon to take you back to this screen. If Maps is being used, you can switch back to the active map display by clicking the icon in the upper left corner. Apple Maps got derided quite a bit when it was first released but it's a pretty good product now, one of the best looking for sure, and has a surprising amount of detail in the 3D building representations. (that said, I live near Apple headquarters so that may have something to do with it.)
You can see an overview that zooms in when it's time to turn or a fairly zoomed in Detail view for making turns. It scrolls smoothly and looks good, but doesn't have the POI search or intelligent traffic routing capabilities of some 3rd party apps. Which, brings us to the first rub - Apple CarPlay is VERY limited in what will be displayed. Only the apps you see (and some music apps) can be controlled or displayed through CarPlay. On the Amazon Music app, I can fast forward or rewind or pause and that's about it - no choosing play lists or searching by artist, etc. You can do it from the App, but that sort of defeats the purpose of CarPlay.
You can't use Waze or Google Maps, and (thank God!) you can't browse Facebook, etc. The only messages you'll get are from iMessage or SMS. No viewing of messages, just text to speech conversions.
My biggest complaint so far is that I've had a few complete failures where CarPlay just won't connect to my phone until I fully reboot both the car and the phone. I get an error message and nothing appears on the screen. I've also had an issue where sound refuses to come from the phone to the car. This means that the songs I have won't play from any source and the telephone won't work through the car. This was really annoying, as I was trying to make a phone call to a friend to tell him that plans had changed and ended up having to shout into the speaker phone, which is precisely what all these fancy electronics are supposed to prevent!
The worst part about it is that the fix isn't a quick power off and on, you have to stop the car, turn it off, lock the car and walk away and wait for the electronics to fully shut down, and reboot the phone. Only then does it want to connect and work properly. I have the latest version of firmware available for my radio - hopefully some fixes for this are coming soon.
We tend to accept a bit of funkiness from technology gadgets but when it comes to my car, I expect it to work all the time, like an appliance. Perhaps unfair, but rebooting my phone is a lot less disruptive to my life than rebooting my car! Hopefully these are just teething issues and they are fixed with updated firmware on both sides, but despite CarPlay improvements being listed on the 9.2.1 iOS update, my issues have persisted. To be fair, it probably works 85-90% of the time, but that's enough to make me not trust it.
Too bad, because it makes so much sense given how powerful smartphones are today and how often they get updated vs. car stereos. Ideally, as you upgrade your mobile device, the in car entertainment and navigation improves too. I look forward to when this all works properly all of the time! Or at least almost all.
Silicon Valley Dad, who loves cars, cooking, clothes and cameras