By on June 27, 2014

tumblr_m9hum9gnmd1rsen2io1_500At yesterday’s Google I/O keynote speech, Google laid out its vision for Android Auto (reported here yesterday), which is quite similar to Apple’s CarPlay. I’ve ranted here before about Apple’s CarPlay when it was first announced and after more details came out last March. Both have the idea that your phone can hijack the screen in your car. What’s newsworthy from Google is that we have an enlarged list of vendors who are playing along. (Wired has the full list. Suffice to say that you’ll have plenty of choices if you want a car that goes both ways, if you know what I mean. Most interesting factoid: Tesla isn’t playing with either Apple or Google. Hear that? It’s the sounds of thousands of alpha-nerd Tesla owners crying out in terror.)

Today, I want to address why you should stop worrying and learn to love having your phone in charge of your car’s telematics display.

Using most computer crap in cars will kill you. I’ve had enough of people arguing about BMW i-Drive vs. Audi MMI vs. giant Tesla touchscreens vs. your smartphone. You all don’t get it. They’re all part of a Communist plot to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids. Or at least distract us and get us into horrific driving accidents. When you’re driving, you should have your hands on the wheel, or your passenger’s thigh. No, no, definitely on the wheel.

But some computer crap in cars is exceptionally valuable. When you’re driving somewhere new, nav systems are great. Even if you’re driving somewhere you go all the time, modern nav systems like Waze give you real-time user-reported intel on the traffic and even where the speed traps are. But how do Waze drivers report speed traps? They press tiny buttons on the phone and promptly create new accidents for other Waze drivers to report.

So how can you use a computer in your car safely? What we’ve seen so far from the automakers is largely a massive failure on this front. BMW’s iDrive, no matter how much they simplify it, is still an abomination upon humanity. Tesla’s giant and beautiful touchscreen, much like the Chevy Volt and other new cars that don’t have real buttons any more, require you to look for the button you’re trying to press. Prior attempts at voice recognition are laughably inaccurate, particularly once the car is moving at freeway speed and you’ve got wind noise and tire noise, never mind a blaring stereo. What’s left? The thing that Google seems to get, and you know Apple will copy it a year later and claim they invented first, is that they have all this knowledge about you. Your calendar has your destination address right next to your appointment. And they know where you live and where you drive every day on your commute. Why is this a good thing? Because Google will (hopefully) be very good at guessing what you’re up to and will just do it with little or no user intervention at all. When you do need to use your voice to tell your nav system what to do, or what music you want to play, you’ll get the benefit of Google’s backend data center megabrain which can do a way better job of figuring out what you’re talking about than the puny computer in your car or phone. Why? Because it’s got context. If you’re trying to navigate to a some business, it’s going to compare your vocal garble to the names of local destinations, especially if you did a Google search on your computer beforehand or your buddy emailed you the address. If you’re trying to play some hipster indie band, it’s going to look at the names in your library and in its “people who like X tend to like Y” megabrain graph. Smaller search space = higher recognition accuracy.

But I don’t trust the Google megabrain with my precious privacy fluids. We are rapidly approaching a moment of truth, both for ourselves as human beings and for the life of our nation. Now, truth is not always a pleasant thing, but the fact is that you’re already telling Google, Apple, the NSA, OkCupid, and the fiendish fluoridators far too much about yourself. It’s a huge pain to keep apps from profiling you, but you can do it if you insist. (I use the totally not user-friendly XPrivacy. My proposed solution for the real world: government regulation. But I digress.) For the rest of us, there’s a tradeoff. You give up some privacy. In return you get something. Maybe that something is a free version of some game. You could pay $1 and get the advertising-free version. But do you pay that dollar? No? That’s how little you truly value your own privacy.

When you use Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, or Microsoft Win9 Cartopia Enterprise Edition, you’re indeed giving up some privacy, but look at what you’re getting back. You’re getting good stuff. For a great price.

How will we ultimately trade our privacy for all these great features? Will Google crack down on apps’ ability to learn totally unnecessarily personal things about you? (There is a new feature in Android “L” that’s supposed to help with this.) Will government regulators ultimately crack down on Google? We’ll see. Now let’s get this thing on the hump — we got some flyin’ to do.


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27 Comments on “Android Auto vs. Apple CarPlay vs. Your Precious Bodily Fluids...”

  • avatar

    “your car’s telematics display”

    Like a tattoo, earring, or sponsored Haitian, I will never have one of those.

    • 0 avatar


      I wish I could say the same about a built-in screen in the car. But unless you intend to buy used or the very most bottom end econoboxes, you are going to have a screen in the car.

      I have resigned myself to the fact that my next car, a BMW 228i, will have one, but at least you can turn it OFF.

      This week’s rental is a ’14 Chrysler 300 with whatever they call their setup, and all I can say is if this is the best, God help us all. I don’t find it any less annoying than what was in the Taurus I had a couple weeks ago. Physical buttons people – is it really so hard a concept?? Not that it is a problem in Statesboro, GA at the moment, but I should not have to screw around with a touchscreen to turn the butt heat on and off.

      • 0 avatar

        Yep, I’ve been fearing that a screen will be inescapable in my next purchase. We narrowly avoided it in out Fit because that was the previous generation.

        But I feel fairly secure that at any option level I would choose in a new car the screen will be minimal and mostly for the back-up camera. #2 son’s Prius has that and I don’t find it objectionable; it’s small and low enough that I can ignore it.

        The problem would be with a CPO that pushes all my buttons but has extraneous crap I would never have ordered. But as the Transit Connect wagon is at the top of my list right now, I think that class of vehicle will be maximally resistant to this dopey kid stuff.

  • avatar

    Right. If most of you are rushing to give yourselves away or trade your personal information for mindless entertainment so be it. Not all of us make those choices, although when the consequences manifest, I’m sure you’ll expect (or want) all of us to share the burden.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      Oh, don’t worry. If 50%+1 of the population do it, you’ll certainly share in the burden, probably by an outsized amount because tyranny of the majority.

      Ain’t Democracy grand?

  • avatar

    I would venture to guess that in a couple years all automakers will offer both. It only makes sense. They won’t let the phone in a customers pocket determine the sale. The real problem is that the automakers are always going to be on the trailing edge of the technology. As these systems age out it is going to affect the resale of the cars. Would YOU want a used vehicle with the ancient CD based navigation system – with a book of 50 CDs – one for each state? Hell, no. You’d go find a similar vehicle without the navi.

    • 0 avatar

      If all else is equal, I don’t see how the archaic nav or no nav differ. You don’t have to use the old nav system.

    • 0 avatar

      @dwford: “I would venture to guess that in a couple years all automakers will offer both.”

      Izzat “both” as in “We got both kinds a’ music, Country AND Western”…? Judging from the mindshare I detect here, Microsoft’s got their work cut out for them with Windows Phone.

    • 0 avatar

      My Range Rover had such an archaic NAV system. I ripped it out, replaced it with the lower trim models storage bin, and use my TomTom. Which despite being ancient, is still better than EVERY factory NAV system I have ever used, and I have used pretty much all of them at this point. If nothing else, it is small, and you can put it in your line of sight.

      I actually just ordered a new TomTom with all the latest features, traffic updates and such. Hoping I like it even better.

  • avatar

    It makes sense that your phone is the only device/display in a car. You might (might!) want a second screen that it can control and/or be controlled by and a universal button input standard (something serial, so you can have unlimited buttons and less wires), but other than that cars really don’t need infotainment systems. They’ll always be technically outdated long before they even made it through testing, navigation data will always be outdated, and you already have a decent reasonably-up-to-date computer in your pocket. Manufacturers can just get into app making for their fleet and/or particular models for car-specific interfaces.

    The only thing standing between us and this future is a standardized adapter plate that all manufacturers agree on. Each phone maker produces an adapter from this standard hole size to their phone/connections so when you get in you just clip it in like you did with an aftermarket stereo faceplate. As a bonus, new cars would make handheld device use while driving very impractical and you wouldn’t need to find somewhere for or plug in a charging wire to your phone that you’re streaming music from over bluetooth anyhow… When everyone is already carrying a computer in their pocket, wasting time/money/effort on building an outdated one to install in a car seems senseless.

    The proliferation of highly inconsistent interfaces in cars is also a terrible thing. 10 years ago there were few cars that you couldn’t just get into and simply operate without an owner’s manual. Today there’s often a lot embedded deep in a series of non-obvious menus that you need to access to do something relatively common. This needs to stop.

    • 0 avatar

      “Today there’s often a lot embedded deep in a series of non-obvious menus that you need to access to do something relatively common”

      This is a generational gap thing. I grew up in the late 80’s / early 90’s, glorious time of Transformers, SNES, Mortal Kombat, and Schwarzenegger movies. I lived and breathed video games (and eventually computers). Every car I rent, I can easily navigate the menus to find what i need (save for the 2014 Mazda 6, that one’s admittedly bad). I think growing up with Street Fighter, Final Fantasy, DOS 6.0,and Nokia brick phones gives my generation an intuitive handle on menu design and functionality. Takes me 2 minutes max to find the right menus and configure a rental car.

      I personally find it more irksome that modern cars don’t have customizable, configurable, displays. Ford’s moving in the right direction, but give me a terminal window into the display and let me move the functions around to my liking. I don’t need a ginormous tach, give me numerical representation of fuel and speed instead of needles clusters, etc.

      • 0 avatar

        I grew up in the same era, have had a computer since I was a small child, and have owned smartphones since they first became reasonable to own (2008). Nothing magic here. The guys designing these interfaces must have long white beards to have some things so senselessly designed.

        The engineering teams are probably relatively old on average and that’s why they can’t design interfaces that are as usable as a 1980s video game menu.

        I totally agree on customizing displays. Anything the ECU can read should be available for us to display wherever we want. Physical gauges are pointlessly-retro. There should also be a long list of functions that we can assign to physical buttons so we can access any function quickly at the push of a button.

        The difference between a car and a video game is that we can pause a game to change things deep in menus. If we need it during gameplay, it has a physical button. Why can’t manufacturers figure this out?

    • 0 avatar

      In my dream of dreams, the car manufacturers do the simple things. Give me HVAC controls. Buttons to move the windows up and down. A horn. They pretty much have that all figured out by now. Then let my phone do the rest. My phone’s got my music. It knows where I’m going. And it’s got a UI that I’ve invested time in understanding, customizing, and otherwise bending to my will. And when I get into a rental car, I still want my environment, my way, my stuff.

      I upgrade my phone maybe every two years and it gets radically better every time. I upgrade my car maybe every ten years. When I bought my 2005 Acura TL (soon to be replaced), it had state of the art Bluetooth, navigation, and 5-channel DVD Audio. Huzzah! Today, it doesn’t do Bluetooth streaming, and I’d have to pay $250 (or go BitTorrent) to get current nav maps, which still wouldn’t be traffic aware, and don’t get me started about how lame the search interface is. You look for a Burger King and it’s as likely to direct you to one 1000 miles away as one down the street. In 2005 that was tolerable. Today it’s pathetic.

      I’m still amazed that car manufacturers are willing to forgo the upsell opportunities. Would you like nav with that? How about paying extra for our Pandora app? No more. Now all of that comes instead from your phone. Even more horrific, from the perspective of the sorts of people who think of BMW as a “brand” and not a “car manufacturer”, is that they’re allowing somebody else’s brand to invade their brand, front and center, where everybody sees it. That’s not a BMW nav. It’s a Google nav. Your car is now an accessory to your phone. That’s terrifying to “brand” people.

      If you forget all that crap and think of phone/car integration purely in terms of providing the best, most usable interface to connect the driver to all the things on the Internet, the right answer is for the car manufacturer to get out of the way and let the computer people run the show. Give them the right interfaces (screens, buttons, voice, etc.) and get out of the way. I’m thrilled that we seem to now be going in this direction. It’s the right answer.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m with you on this and think the OEMs are finally catching on too. Its much easier to update “an app” then the entire vehicle, so why not just give up control to those who make the best apps?

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Thanks Dan, for posting a very informative yet hilarious article that has nothing to do with the world cup.

    Made my day.

  • avatar

    “My God, they’re all mad!”

  • avatar

    Gentlemen you can’t fight in here, this is the war room!

  • avatar

    I have an M7 that I got a couple months ago. I LOVE it! Very quick response, fast (even on the Sprint 3G), and Sense 6 just made it that much better. Can’t wait for 4.4.3.

    Deeply ashamed Toyota isn’t using Android Auto. One of my favorite carmakers only wanting to pair with Apple (ugh). There are some things I don’t like about Google, but I love their phones and tablets (though my phone is an HTC, I was going to get a Nexus 5 if my previous phone wasn’t an LG). Android Auto will be successful.

    And is Android Auto based on KitKat, or something entirely new? I’m yet to see all the Android Authority videos posted on YouTube about Android Auto, so I’d just like an answer on here please.

    • 0 avatar

      They haven’t said what sort of software is running on the car side. On your paired phone, they haven’t said specifically which Android versions are required. They did say that the phone-to-Chromecast support will be distributed in Google Play Services, which covers a large selection of phones, and the core idea – projecting graphics from your phone to somewhere else – is the same.

      So, to answer your question: maybe.

  • avatar

    Will this work with my flip phone? Can I keep my Garmin with free updates? I use Linux on my computer so it would make my life easier if this is all open and free. No, okay then, have a nice day.

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