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Monday, December 17, 2018

My wife drives a 2017 Nissan Pathfinder. She routinely tells me she loves her car. I am less enthusiastic. For $2,000 we upgraded the vehicle to the “tech package” that includes a navigation system, but the vehicle’s built-in navigational interface is shamefully behind the times. Therefore, to navigate while driving, I clip my phone to a $5 plastic piece that grips the vents of the air conditioning system. I spoke to local car leasing expert Aryeh Moskowitz of Arcar Motors and he agreed that I am not alone in my disappointment. In fact, technology complaints are at the top of the list, according to a recent J. D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study. Wouldn’t it be ideal if our phones easily connected to our dashboards and empowered it with the same capabilities of our phones? The answer, of course, is yes, but is the technology currently available?

My navigation application of choice is Waze. At times, I also use Google Maps. I prefer Waze because I believe its live crowd-sourcing of traffic is superior to any other navigation system available. The interface is clearly much more intuitive than my car’s system. I’ve noticed as I travel that most of the Uber drivers I encounter also use Waze. Some occasionally use Google Maps or the built in Uber map—also Google-based. At times I even use Waze when I know where I am going, just to warn me about traffic cameras and speed traps. I also must admit that I love Israeli technology.

When I was in Israel my rental car came with a Waze navigation system. This was somewhat surprising as I have not seen this option yet in any new, used or rented car in the United States. However, that is what I want in my dashboard: the navigation system of my choice integrated with the car sound system so music will fade when a notification is being communicated and a voice call will work with my navigation system the same way it does for the current factory-installed system.

If you are in the market for a new car, you will notice that some cars now have a (optional) feature called Apple CarPlay and/or Android Auto. The idea of these platforms seems to address the functionality we desire. When you plug in your phone to the car USB port (wireless versions are on their way), a selection of available apps optimized for in-car use are displayed. Each platform has its own set of compatible apps that are now built into your dashboard screen. However, do they provide the seamless Waze navigation integration we have been looking for?

I reached out to Aryeh again and asked him to grant me access to a car with Android Auto installed. Thankfully, he had one available and joined me with intrigue as we tested the functionality. We plugged in an Android phone with Android Auto installed, and after some settings configurations we were given the choice of using Google Maps or Waze on our dashboard maps. We selected Waze and, presto, voice guidance took over in the vehicle.

We took it a step further and tested the ability to issue voice commands to Google to make phone calls and send text messages. We were able to say “OK Google, Call” or “Text,” including via WhatsApp, and were even able to ask Google to “play music” from several streaming services. Finally, we were able to say, “Ok Google, navigate home using Waze.” No buttons to press or interface to “navigate.” If you are a user of the Google digital assistant, you can ask Android Auto for anything you can ask your assistant. You can ask it to close the lights or the garage at home, set your thermostat on the way home from work or to read you an audiobook on a long road trip. Try getting your $2,000 factory-installed navigation system to do these.

While much of this same functionality exists on the Apple Car Play, the only navigation app that Apple offers is its own Apple Maps. Sadly for Apple users, both Google Maps and Waze are not available on the Apple CarPlay platform. While Apple Maps has been around for many years, it is far from the best offering from Apple and not what I or many of you use, even if you are completely entrenched in the Apple ecosystem. Allowing Google Maps and Waze on the Apple CarPlay platform would require both Google to desire it and Apple to allow it. As competition for the dominant dashboard platform of the future heats up, I don’t expect either of these fierce competitors to allow it.

Regardless of Apple or Android platform, the features on these platforms outperform car manufacturer-installed systems. One would expect all car manufacturers to embrace these platforms. However, after taking a closer look with Aryeh, not all manufacturers have adopted them. Nissan/Infiniti and Toyota/Lexus currently don’t offer either. BMW offers just Apple CarPlay as an option but not Android Auto. Hyundai, on the other hand, offers both standard. Some manufacturers have announced plans to offer one or the other, while others have embraced the newcomer Amazon, who plans to integrate Alexa into your dashboard.

Will the availability of a platform impact your decision of which car to buy? It is certainly something for you to consider, especially if you want the latest technology embedded into your vehicle. But what if you love a car or already own one without the platforms? Are you stuck in car technology purgatory? Luckily, there are several stereo receivers that are available to be installed into your dashboard that come with both the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto platforms. These receivers can be purchased and installed by companies such as Best Buy. However, for directions to a store near you, you will still need to take your phone out and glue it to your dashboard. If you are using Apple Maps instead of Waze, please watch out for those speed traps and potholes along the way. Shabbat shalom!

By Dov Pavel


Dov Pavel is a tech enthusiast who is not affiliated with any of the companies whose products he reviews. The opinions he expresses are solely his own. Dov is not a halachic authority. Readers should consult their own rabbi as needed. Dov lives in Teaneck with his wife and three children. Previous articles can be found at tribetechreview.wordpress.com.