My daily driver car doesn't have Apple's CarPlay smartphone integration system, but every time I hire a car (which is at least once every month or so), I get a chance to see if it's improved.
And each time, I'm sort of pleasantly surprised to see that it's gotten better, but I always feel a pang of disappointment because it could be a lot better.
I'm running an iPhone 13 Pro Max, loaded with the latest iOS 15.2.1 update, so everything on my end is good to go. The car is a late 2021 Vauxhall Corsa, so that's quite new too.
Everything is pretty fresh, so I can't blame any problems on aging technology.
So why is CarPlay so unreliable?
I mean, the process is itself quite simple. You connect a Lightning cable to the car (USB-A cable) and hook up the other end to the iPhone.
And then hope it works.
In my experience, this has about a 90% chance of success. Maybe some of this is down to me not getting used to the idiosyncrasies of the car, but remember, all I'm doing is connecting a cable to the car.
The scope for me "doing it wrong" is small.
The current vehicle also comes with Bluetooth, and that can also be used for CarPlay, but getting that working seems more of a faff.
OK, assuming it connects, the next problem I find is random disconnections. And as far as I can tell, they're pretty random. Sometimes it's rock-solid. Next time, I'll get several disconnections within a short period.
When I tested Bluetooth, I found the reliability to be worse than using a cable.
Is it something I'm doing wrong? Something misbehaving? Do I need to shut down and restart the car?
I don't know.
But I do know that it's annoying.
Doubly so since CarPlay audio seems to be so quiet and seems to need a much higher volume, so when it suddenly switches to the radio, it's like a grenade has gone off in the car.
Those episodes are pretty distracting, to say the least!
The other thing that annoys me is that charging a modern Pro Max iPhone using USB-A is slow.
I'm used to going from zero to 50 percent charge ins 30 minutes. Here I'm lucky to get a few percentage points.
Sometimes it doesn't even feel like my iPhone is even charging at all.
This is a big weakness of the CarPlay systems I've tried. Maybe some cars use USB-C, but as of the time of writing, I've not come across one (which also means that CarPlay users that have a newer iPhone need an older Lightning cable).
Despite all these misgivings, I still think that CarPlay is a great system (to me it feels superior to Android Auto, but that might be because I'm more used to the iOS interface). It hands-down beats any other in-car smartphone integration system I've used.
I just wish it was better.
Let me know your experiences with the system (or Android Auto) in the comments down below.