I bought a car that is so old that it doesn’t have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and I love it. It’s an older BMW, and it has USB but nothing fancy. I use the built-in navigation system for maps, Bluetooth for music, and you know what? I don’t miss CarPlay at all. In fact, I’m relieved that I don’t have to rely on my smartphone anymore. That’s a huge problem for Apple and Google. CarPlay and Android Auto have made things worse in every way, not better.
What does my older car do that CarPlay doesn’t? Let’s start with the things it doesn’t do. It doesn’t freeze up, ever. When I switch from music to maps, I don’t get an interminable pause that leaves me wondering if I need to restart … something. The only thing I restart is the internal combustion engine. The navigation system just works.
With Android Auto and CarPlay, I’m constantly fighting bugs and glitches. Audio will stop working while I’m listening to an Audible audiobook, or Waze will hang just as I’m approaching an important turn, leaving me with a frozen map on my screen.
Awesome. Now I get to troubleshoot my car, driving 55mph, while I’m also trying to figure out what to do about the exit I just missed.
That’s if I manage to hit the road before the problems start. I’m constantly facing connection problems from both Android Auto and CarPlay. On Android, my device would not only disconnect from Bluetooth (why do I need BT for a wired CarPlay connection?!), it would delete my car from my list of Bluetooth devices. I have seen this happen on the best Samsung Galaxy and Google Pixel phones, and more than once.
My Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max is more reliable, by a fraction. I have fewer connection problems, but CarPlay still freezes often when I need to switch between apps, especially apps that play audio content.
Once, I made the horrifying mistake of running Apple’s iOS 17 Beta software while relying on my iPhone for CarPlay. CarPlay broke on every trip. I will never do that again, my friends. It was a harrowing experience of high-speed software crashes, and it’s impossible to downgrade from Beta software in an emergency.
Buttons are good, touch screens are bad
My car isn’t perfect; BMW’s convoluted iDrive entertainment system is quite infamous. Still, I vastly prefer it to my iPhone 15 Pro Max or Pixel 8 Pro or Galaxy S24 Ultra controlling my system. It may not have the voice assistant and messaging features. It can be kludgy to navigate with just a hand-dial and a button to press. It’s still so much better than a touchscreen.
My favorite thing about my car is the way it shuns touchscreens. It has six programmable buttons, and you can program them to do anything on the display screen. Instead of just radio stations, I can program buttons for navigation shortcuts, or music, or the trip computer.
I don’t need to tap a touchscreen multiple times for every common task. When I want to go home, I press button #1. I can do it without looking, because it’s a real, large button. Instead of focusing my attention on a small display, BMW (back in the day) recognized that buttons were more efficient. I wish more car companies and phone makers would remember this path.
I want to love CarPlay and Android Auto. My phone is smart, and it has all of my music, audiobooks, and navigation shortcuts preloaded. My phone can send text messages just by listening to me, and it can prioritize notifications to filter out what’s unimportant.
My phone should be a part of my car, but it shouldn’t be the centerpiece. I use my phone in the kitchen, but I don’t use it to chop vegetables. I use it to read a recipe, I don’t use it to stir the pot.
A car needs to be foolproof, but a smartphone can fail
In the car, my phone should provide information and content, but it shouldn't be the buttons and knobs. Phones are terrible at being buttons and knobs, and we have actual buttons and knobs in place. I need to keep my eyes on the road. A touch screen is so obviously stupid for driving, it’s shocking we’ve allowed car makers and phone makers to collaborate on this.
Smartphones are not built to be foolproof while hurtling down the highway behind two tons of metal and gasoline. My car is built to respond immediately, in any condition. The backup camera shows up when I put the car in reverse so I don’t run over somebody behind me.
My smartphone is not that responsive. If the phone crashes, so what? It doesn’t restart quickly. There are software bugs and it freezes up and I’m just supposed to live with it. Who let this thing behind the wheel?
We need to laugh at the ridiculous notion that the future is entirely touchscreen, and return to the tools that work. Until my phone’s touchscreen does a better job than the knob on my car stereo, I’ll keep using the knob to turn up the volume, and I’ll turn off CarPlay.
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Phil Berne is a preeminent voice in consumer electronics reviews, having reviewed his first device (the Sony D-EJ01 Discman) more than 20 years ago for eTown.com. He has been writing about phones and mobile technology, since before the iPhone, for a variety of sites including PCMag, infoSync, PhoneScoop, and Slashgear. He holds an M.A. in Cultural Theory from Carnegie Mellon University.
Phil was the internal reviewer for Samsung Mobile, writing opinions and review predictions about top secret new devices months before launch. He left in 2017. He worked at an Apple Store near Boston, MA, at the height of iPod popularity. He has been a High School English teacher at Title I schools, and is a certified Lifeguard. His passion is smartphones and wearables, and he is sure that the next big thing will be phones we wear on our faces.