CarPlay, Android Auto, MirrorLink: the dashboard war is declared

Some car manufacturers now offer CarPlay, Android Auto or MirrorLink systems in their vehicles. We were able to take them in hand at Seat, which offers the three systems within its Ibiza SC. Which is the most practical? Answer here.

A few years ago, specialized equipment manufacturers (Pioneer, JVC-Kenwood, Clarion, Alpine or Becker) fitted cars with infotainment (single or double DIN audio system, USB and auxiliary sockets on the front and Bluetooth system). Since then, the situation has changed with the explosion of the smartphone market, which does not let us go, even in the car. Also, to take advantage of its services inside the passenger compartment, you need an integrated system capable of intelligently duplicating the screen of the telephone on that of the dashboard (Mirroring). What the 3 OS for cars offer that interests us today.

In 2000, BMW offered the possibility of connecting an iPod via a dedicated cable with steering wheel control. In 2010, the MirrorLink system developed by Nokia was very quickly opened up to the Car Connectivity Consortium, which brings together car manufacturers and equipment suppliers. Today, MirrorLink equips 70 to 80% of the market. But with the arrival of Apple / CarPlay and Google / Android Auto, the conquest of the dashboard promises to be tense. Even there, we must keep the hearts of phone users and sell them as best as possible dedicated auto applications. It is also necessary to reckon with the “home” systems like SYNC AppLink developed by Ford in collaboration with Microsoft. Few of the automobile manufacturers, apart from the forerunner of the genre, Pioneer, offer all three OS for cars at the same time. Spanish automaker Seat is one of them. It is even the first brand of the Volkswagen group to simultaneously integrate CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink.

In order to give us a more precise idea of ​​the three systems, the manufacturer has entrusted us with the fourth generation of the Ibiza SC with the connected FullLink function (170 €). This "new" Ibiza incorporates a 6,5-inch matte touchscreen which, although bright, has the unfortunate tendency to retain fingerprints. On the other hand, nothing to say about the responsiveness of the screen which, thanks to the presence of a motion detector, shows submenus in the four corners of the screen as soon as you approach the hand.

The Full Link system incorporates a gesture detector allowing submenus to appear on the screen without having to touch it

Presentation and connectivity

Depending on the smartphone, we will opt for Android Auto, CarPlay or MirrorLink

On board the vehicle, once contact is made, a menu carousel is displayed on the screen. The Full Link menu gives access to the three on-board multimedia systems.

CarPlay - Available to everyone, but few applications

We start our test with an iPhone 5c; for information, CarPlay, which has been around since version 7.1 of iOS, only works from the iPhone 5. Just plug the original cable into the USB port of the Seat - which is not a model of its kind in terms of accessibility - and unlocking the iPhone, unlike Android Auto. Once CarPlay is launched, we abandon the iPhone; applications launched from CarPlay are also launched on the smartphone. Eight slightly modified icons on the screen are reminiscent of those of the iPhone. The limited number of functions is designed so as not to disturb the driver. In the left corner of the screen, a white button triggers Siri, the Apple voice assistant. Upon receipt of an SMS, Siri takes charge of reading and replying. There are three possibilities to initiate a call: via Siri, manually, by entering a number from the virtual keyboard or by searching for the name in the directory. Easy.

The Music function is the exact replica of that of the iPhone, with playlists, songs, artists and albums. Road navigation goes through Maps, with the choice of dictating the destination or typing it on the screen (more tedious). For a single destination, several routes are offered, but information such as speed cameras or POIs (Waze, TomTom or iCoyote: those who are very absent ...) are still missing.

Another application certified by Apple but which does not appear: Spotify for music streaming. Otherwise, we were able to take advantage of TuneIn Radio, which provides access to radio stations from around the world. This implies that you have an adequate data plan. In the event of white areas ”, CarPlay will be of no use to you in this case.

CarPlay, which is very easy to use, is for the moment only a "mirror" of some of its applications housed on the iPhone. The offer of compatible applications should be enriched with weather, news, better navigation ... That being said, the car manufacturers that integrate CarPlay also offer their home application such as Seat Connect in our case which is proving to be very playful. Another rather pleasant discovery is Orange Radio and Digital Concert Hall of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

At the last developer conference (WWDC) last June, Apple said its CarPlay system would work wirelessly as soon as iOS 8.3 was operational. To date, "there are no solutions (neither Pioneer / nor others) capable of meeting these specs on the market" according to a Pioneer manager. The latter adds that the equipment manufacturer is working on the subject.

In addition, Seat engineers tried to make Full Link work in Wifi mode with smartphones but had to give up because the batteries of the latter were running out too quickly.

Android Auto and MirrorLink: a tedious installation


Downloading the Android Auto application is compulsory without forgetting the validation of certain sub-applications. In short, very tedious! 

Change of tone. Android Auto and MirrorLink, same battle: a tedious first installation that could discourage more than one. First of all, check that the Android smartphone is in Lollipop version, and above all, be sure to download the Android Auto application before plugging your mobile into the USB port of the Seat; if so, it will not be recognized. Once connected, Full Link gives the choice between Android Auto or MirrorLink. To use MirrorLink, you need a compatible smartphone. A list of approved smartphones is available on the MirrorLink website.

With Android Auto, we are not at the end of our surprises. When the application launches, you must not only activate Bluetooth, but also validate access to four sub-applications such as Google Maps or Google Play Music. After these manipulations only, we can take advantage of Android Auto. And there, disappointment for the retina: the home screen and its applications (Phone, Music, Navigation, Speak - Google Voice -, Car mode and Seat Connect home application) are not a success in terms of design. Car mode is displayed in landscape with the aforementioned icons above which the weather forecast, time and the song played are displayed. As for the phone and the music, only the traditional in terms of operation, the most interesting application being Navigation, with all the strength of Google Maps. Here, we search for destinations manually or via Google Voice, the voice assistant. On the other hand, if you have the Waze application, you will be asked if you want to use it for Navigation, in particular to find points of interest.

The strength of Android Auto? Already offer a wide range of compatible applications (around 40). For example, for messages, we will opt for Hangouts or WeChat for voice calls. Most of the rest of the apps turn to music, radio, or audiobooks. Note that iCoyote is Android Auto compatible.


MirrorLink - Limited compatibility


To duplicate your smartphone screen to the dashboard, just click on 1: 1 mode at the bottom right.

Created by Nokia, MirrorLink has become a consortium of around XNUMX players, including eight mobile manufacturers. However, only four of them (HTC, Samsung, Sony and Fujitsu) ensure their smartphones are compatible with MirrorLink. And again, not all of their smartphones are certified. To use this system, you must activate Bluetooth without forgetting to change the USB connection parameters from the smartphone. Once in the FullLink program, we check the MirrorLink option which displays the same home screen as that of Android Auto enhanced by compatible third-party applications. The voice assistant is not a model of its kind, with a synthetic and barely audible voice.  

Is MirrorLink a copy of Android Auto? No, because MirrorLink's primary function is to duplicate the smartphone screen on the dashboard. Thus, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and all other applications become accessible on a larger screen. But the joy is short-lived. Indeed, safety requires, all these applications become inert as soon as the vehicle is in motion. This comes from the certification system of each application classified as "Driving" mode, "Parking" mode, or both, depending on its degree of disturbance to the driver. Suddenly, the interest of having so many applications on its dashboard screen is limited. That being said, MirrorLink offers a number of compatible third-party applications (iCoyote, Bringo (GPS), Glympse (POI), Sygic (GPS), RockScout (music)), some accessible from the Google store.

Friendly reminder message to avoid leaving your mobile in view of everyone.

Summary of Vietnam

The FullLink system offered by Seat is quite successful and we did not notice any bugs when switching from one OS to another. We can only praise the ease of installation and use of CarPlay. On the other hand, the richness of the catalog of applications must be improved as quickly as possible. Leaving music, radio and audio book applications, CarPlay may tire more than one.

As for the two other OS, which are rather complementary, if the installation and the design are to be reviewed, a good point is given for the number of applications available for use when the vehicle is in motion. 

You will understand, there are good things here and there, but there is still some way to go for these systems to become more efficient, or even to become downright essential. For this, it will take much more than the simple mirror effect between the smartphone and the car screen.

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