Buyers' Guide: Have application, will travel
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Some of us still find comfort in having a map stowed in the car before we head off to a new destination — but few would question the significant impact that smartphone technology has had on our lives.
Apps have become a common go-to for fast, reliable information as well as for maintaining contact with people and entertainment.
Over the course of the past few years, they’ve been making their way into our cars at full throttle with many manufacturers now offering two options within their infotainment systems — Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.
Most infotainment systems will include only one option, which is why it’s important to discuss your mobile device requirements before you buy a car. However, some vehicles do offer both, which makes them compatible with most phones, allowing you to enhance your driving experience.
How it works
Rather than running its own interface, the infotainment system enters a different mode, providing a display based on the apps installed on your phone.
Not all apps will be available, but those supporting Android Auto or Apple CarPlay will be displayed.
This kind of connection needs to be made using a USB data cable that’s connected to your smartphone. Some Android phones may also require a simultaneous Bluetooth connection.
The brains behind the navigation
The prevalence of smartphones and the popularity of using them for navigation purposes has led to some manufacturers retreating from decking their latest models with built-in GPS.
Instead they rely on the smartphone’s data connection to use Apple or Google Maps, which are automatically updated on a regular basis to ensure information is kept up-to-date.
Either way, by using your phone’s mapping application instead of your vehicle’s navigation software, you can avoid waiting for potentially costly updates.
Another benefit of using your phone’s navigation is its voice-recognition functionality. As well as searching by street address or location, you can use less specific search terms. For example, “find the nearest gas station” or “where’s the nearest Italian restaurant?”
Your phone may even read out the restaurant’s review, before setting it as a destination.
For safety reasons, the touchscreen interfaces of many navigation devices are restricted while a vehicle is moving. Having a voice activated system allows addresses to be entered safely while both hands can remain on the steering wheel.
Music to your ears
The great thing about being able to connect your phone with your car is the array of music applications you have access to such as iheartradio, Spotify and Pandora.
Say goodbye to the stash of CDs clogging up the glove box, as you can now find that perfect road trip playlist instantly and stream it through your device.
If you have signed up to the premium versions of these music apps, you can usually download your favourite albums and playlists before you head off on a journey, so you can listen to them without a 3G, 4G or Wi-Fi connection and you can still listen to music you’ve downloaded to your phone via iTunes or the Google store without using up your data allowance.
Things to come
Last month, Jaguar and Shell announced they were introducing an app in the UK that works in conjunction with the navigation system of their vehicles.
Not only does the app guide motorists to their nearest fuel station, it also allows the driver to pay from the cabin using PayPal or Apple Pay.
If you’re a lone parent with children in the back seat, it removes any need to leave them unattended, even for a moment. You won’t even need to have your wallet on you.
This technology is a taste of things to come for Kiwi Jaguar owners, as it’ll be available in New Zealand — albeit at selected service stations — from next year.
All these additional benefits do usually come at an extra cost and, if you don’t have a big data plan, be careful as running navigation apps will churn through your mobile data.