CarPlay has some growing up to do

When Eddy Cue first announced iOS in the Car back at WWDC 2013, the idea behind it sounded great. Bringing iOS into your vehicle was going to be so awesome, right? Well, fast forward three years and we are seeing very little progress and quite a slow roll out to new vehicles. Sure, Apple boasts that it is available in more than 100 vehicles, but the software is just too basic to get excited about.

In general, the automotive industry moves slower than the tech industry, so we have to understand that developments may not be quick on this front. But, the software does not feel mature. It's super simple, and while that appeals to some, others may want more out of it.

When it comes to the interface, there is no mistaking that Apple designed it. You've got the large iOS-style icons on your screen with your compatible apps paginated. Unfortunately, you can't re-arrange the icons like you can on your iPhone or iPad, so you are stuck with their layout. This sucks.

Say you are a heavy Spotify listener or want to stream the baseball game through your vehicle — you have to flip through the pages to find the app icons. While this may seem like a minor gripe, it would be much easier if Apple let you put your favorite apps on the main page for quick and easy access.

Navigating the interface is easy, though. The buttons are large enough that you can easily select the correct one, and the navigation forward and back is at the top, like on most iOS apps. You can navigate various elements of the UI with your voice, including searching for directions, sending messages and more.

Unlike Android Auto, CarPlay doesn't lock down your phone while it is in use. Android Auto doesn't allow you to access any of the features of the phone unless you disconnect the software. While this is a great safety feature to help keep the driver focused, it can be a pain if the passenger has their phone connected and wants to use it as well.

CarPlay allows you to navigate your phone as you would without it being connected, but it can get distracting quickly. The UI elements on the display change as you bounce between apps, so if you launch Messages, it pulls up a list of your contacts you have threads with; when you press the Home button, it closes that and goes back to the main screen.

When you plug your phone into CarPlay for the first time you get a simple prompt asking you to allow it access while the phone is locked. Beyond that, nothing else is required to get set up. You may be shocked at how few of your installed apps actually show up on the display, as it only really works with streaming services. You'll see Music, Spotify, Pandora, MLB, etc, but none of your other apps. Sure, you can make the case that all you need are the basic services and some music streaming options, but the possibilities branch much further than just that.

Sure, you can create reminders using Siri, or check your calendar, but those options don't exist in the interface. For some, having that information readily available is important. Lots of people spend a bulk of their day in the car and need quick and easy access to that information.

It is great to see Apple making it easier to use your iPhone in the car, but the software needs to develop faster. Basic features like remembering where you were on a playlist so you can resume playback when you get in the car, or keeping the screen on an app view when you are navigating the phone feel basic. Being able to customize the order of the icons should be a no-brainer, but yet you can't do it.

Apple needs to make some advancements on the CarPlay front in order to entice people to use it. As it stands right now, it would be hard to recommend that someone go out of their way to get CarPlay installed instead of using their existing set up.

What are your thoughts on CarPlay? Do you like the current feature set, or wish it could do more? Let us know in the comments!

Jared DiPane

Jared started off writing about mobile phones back when BlackBerry ruled the market, and Windows Mobile was kinda cool. Now, with a family, mortgage and other responsibilities he has no choice but to look for the best deals, and he's here to share them with you.