Playing DJ with voice commands will become easier for more Americans this fall, as some top-selling cars will be updated with software that integrates smartphones into the dashboard.
With the 2016 model year, Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto will turn cars as affordable as a base model Chevy Spark into rolling robotic assistants that will give directions to nearby restaurants or play the latest hits with controls too. as simple as “Playing Ellie Goulding”.
The Associated Press recently tested both systems on a 2016 Honda Accord. As with phones, voice-activated car technologies don’t always work as expected, displaying inaccurate instructions or failing to open an app, for example. . But overall, both systems are convenient and incredibly intuitive.
CarPlay and Android Auto are expected to give drivers more time to keep their eyes on the road compared to automakers’ own voice systems, which can take multiple steps and consult on-screen menus. However, as with any system requiring driver intervention, distraction is a concern.
“Anything that takes your attention away from driving is not something you want to get involved in,” said Kathy Lane, spokesperson for the National Safety Council, a non-profit organization created by Congress to promote safety. security.
Neither system has yet been tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, spokesman Russ Rader said. The institute studies human and mechanical factors in an attempt to reduce the number of vehicle accidents.
Consumers increasingly want to use their smartphones while driving, without breaking the law. In recent years, drivers of most new cars have been able to talk to their phones and stream audio through a car’s speakers using the nearly ubiquitous Bluetooth wireless standard. However, this may require handling the phone, such as pressing the home button first.
CarPlay and Android Auto allow voice commands to be activated at the push of a button on the steering wheel. Phones should be plugged into the USB port, where the phone charges and powers the in-car entertainment. You can access maps, voicemail, phone contacts, and music apps using an in-dash touchscreen – no need to grab your phone.
There are two limitations with the Apple system whether or not you use it on CarPlay. One is that Apple is reserving voice commands for its proprietary apps – phone, cards, SMS, and Apple Music.
The other is that you have to be a subscriber to Apple’s $ 10 per month Apple Music service if you want to ask digital voice assistant Siri for such complicated tasks as “play the best song of 2011”. (It’s Gotye’s “Someone I Used To Know”, if you were wondering.) However, you can use your voice to play songs that you have downloaded and have on your iPhone. .
The less restrictive Android Auto will allow you to use apps like Spotify as long as you specifically tell it to “play Aerosmith on Spotify” or set Spotify as the default music app. A Spotify subscription also costs $ 10 per month.
The systems themselves can cost users significantly more.
The 2016 Honda Accord EX with manual transmission is the lowest version on which Honda offers CarPlay and Android Auto support. At $ 25,480, the EX costs $ 1,315 more than the Sport trim and includes things like a moonroof, keyless remote, and better touchscreen. Volkswagen’s entry-level 2016 Jetta 1.4T at $ 17,680 offers CarPlay and Android Auto as part of a $ 995 tech upgrade that includes a larger touchscreen and a rear view camera.
Some automakers believe that such features might encourage buyers to increase the trim level rather than move to more expensive models. “This is going to provide a good advantage to the Accord buyer,” said Jay Guzowski, product planning manager for midsize cars at American Honda Motor Co.
General Motors is the only one to offer CarPlay and Android Auto as standard equipment on cars as inexpensive as the Spark – the 2015 version costs over $ 12,170 – and as large as its Chevrolet Cruze and Malibu sedans and Silverado trucks. Chevrolet Marketing Director Steve Majoros calls the move “revolutionary,” and the automaker hopes it will improve its market share.
“CarPlay and Android Auto are about to reach the mainstream,” said Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelly Blue Book. “We’re talking about 40 to 50 models that will likely have it in the next 12 months or less, which is maybe about 20 percent of the entire auto market.”
IHS analyst Colin Bird predicts that automakers in the United States and Canada will sell 497,000 modest cars with CarPlay, Android Auto, or both this year. This number is expected to increase to 5 million in 2018 and nearly 10 million in 2020.
As smart and useful as CarPlay and Android Auto are, they’re not perfect.
During a quick demo of a coffee-colored 2016 Accord Touring, the Android Auto voice assistant helped me play songs by artists like Adele, Sting, and Ellie Goulding, but wouldn’t recognize “U2” as anything else. than “YouTube”. He also failed to open the iHeart Radio app despite being told to do so (subsequent verification showed that the app had not been configured to recognize its location, which maybe threw a wrench into things).
CarPlay users will not be able to use the higher version of Google Maps through the interface, even if the app is on their phone. In the demo, Apple’s notoriously original maps app asked me to drive to Honda’s U.S. headquarters in Torrance through the research and development path, bypassing the front aisle and the visitor parking lot itself. if it was a more direct route.
There is still work to be done to improve integration.
One problem is that when phones need to be plugged in – rather than left in a pocket or purse – usage of internet-connected apps drops dramatically, says Pandora vice president of automotive business development Geoff Snyder. “When it is necessary for the use of the system, the use drops quite dramatically. So for now, some infotainment systems made by automakers with apps will be more convenient for people who just want to get in their cars and go.
Apple’s head of software engineering Craig Federighi said in June that the iOS 9 mobile operating system update coming this fall will allow CarPlay to work without taking out your iPhone. But according to Apple, that may require another hardware update from automakers: Wi-Fi support.
(AP Auto Writer Dee-Ann Durbin in Detroit contributed to this story.)
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