The Wide, Confusing World of Car Infotainment Systems

There's a lot going on. Maybe too much.

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Apple's CarPlay

There’s an awful lot happening with in-car systems for entertainment and information — especially ones which, in one way or another, work in partnership with smartphone apps. Over at Cnet, Tim Stevens has done an excellent job of pulling together a piece on everything that’s going on, including options from Apple and Google, a standard called MirrorLink and scads of decidedly proprietary technologies.

The market is so crowded with offerings, many of which are immature or not quite here yet, that it’s an inherently confusing subject. And so many car companies are still doing their own thing that it’s a little as if Samsung, HTC, Kyocera, LG and Sony all decided to write their own phone operating systems. But after reading Stevens’ piece, I’m better informed than I was, and tentatively excited about what’s to come.

Me, I recently bought a Ford Focus with MyFord Touch, Ford’s fanciest infotainment system. It has a mediocre-to-bad reputation. To some degree, that’s based on issues Ford has addressed with software updates, but I’ve had encountered a number of problems with it, including a touchscreen that occasionally can’t decide whether it’s registered my taps or not, and one bizarre evening when the radio didn’t want to turn off. I’m also befuddled by Ford’s failure to give MyFord Touch its useful AppLink technology, which lets smartphone apps work in concert with the car’s system. (AppLink only works with the older Sync platform.)

Then again, I’ve tried infotainment systems in other makes of automobile that were much worse than MyFord Touch, including the one in a Porsche Cayenne, which randomly and repeatedly decided to talk to me in French. The whole category remains immature, which is why I’m encouraged to see Apple get involved via CarPlay.

When my Focus’s system works — which is most of the time — I’m reasonably happy with it. And despite the “Touch” in its name, I’m happiest when I use it entirely via voice commands. That works almost flawlessly, and leads me to hope that future car interfaces depend at least as much on talk as they do on touch.