Tesla’s massive 17″ touchscreen continues to be powered by their own proprietary software and so far have resisted the calls to add support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The industry as a hole has largely put up the white flag and either added support or completed replaced their infotainment system with the mobile platforms. The difference with Tesla is their software is actually good, so unlikely many others, the default experience for a new owner is a good one.
Being a technology company, Tesla has software engineers that actively develop and improve the software in their vehicle, so should they enable Android Auto and Apple CarPlay? I believe the answer is yes, as giving owners an additional option is surely the most consumer-friendly thing to do. There are some fairly important differences between using Tesla or mobile OS.
Planning a car trip usually starts well before your time in the vehicle, often starting on the PC or mobile while you research hotels for the destination or even tourist attraction to go visit on holidays, or the location of the conference compared to your hotel when travelling for work. These location searches typically happen on Google Maps and with Android Auto, transferring these trips on from your phone to the in-dash display of the supporting vehicle is seamless. Simple connect your phone via USB cable and access Maps. Your history of journey’s is immediately available to you.
When we consider this same task on Tesla’s system, you can enter a destination using the on-screen keyboard (which annoyingly still doesn’t support case switching on the letters), or use voice input to set your destination. This will get the job done, but does make users redo work they’ve already done, telling one of their connected devices that information. A smart solution should never make a user contribute information twice.
In terms of currency and traffic data between the two, there’s largely no difference, both connected to cloud services to deliver the latest routing. If you prefer Waze, again, its not available on the Tesla, only through the mobile app, which would provide audio guidance through the car’s speakers, but not directions on either display. Tesla’s in-built system leverages both displays and is particularly useful with lane changes, with the left-section of the driver’s display displaying a high-quality graphic with arrows to indicate which lane of a multi-lane exit you need to be in.
The car comes with a Telstra 3G sim card built-in. This means you’re car is connected which enables all of the mobile experience, as well as the big benefit of access to free streaming services Spotify Premium and TuneIn. Of course you can connect your phone and play content via Bluetooth, but the big limitation here is the lack of an app platform. This means if you jump into the car with a playlist of downloaded podcasts in PocketCasts, or use a music streaming service other than Spotify, you’re out of luck. You can Bluetooth it, but you can’t get the same visual, touch experience on the center display. Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto enables access to audio apps and enables interaction with them via the display.
The steering wheel of the Tesla Model X (and S) features a voice button which interfaces with the infotainment system. When pressed, you can command your car to navigate, play audio, call someone and that sounds like great functionality. The problem comes when we compare this with modern-day, advanced voice assistants like Google Assistant (and to a lesser degree, Siri). Tesla’s voice control is pretty basic, it’ll get the job done, but there’s no matching the broad number of natural language strings you can throw at Google Assistant and get a response. This stems largely from just how much your phone knows about you and how many apps and services you have connected. With the relatively limited set in the Tesla, operations are basic and with Australia blocking the browser found in other markets, other web-based integrations with Tesla are off the table.
At the end of the day, Tesla may be resistant to allowing other platform support on their vehicles, but unless they can match feature parity, its something they should open up to. The list of auto makers who know support Apple CarPlay (more than 200 models) and/or Android Auto (more than 400 models) is massive and growing all the time. There’s a lot of reasons to buy a Tesla over another brand, but if mobile support is a deal breaker for someone, it may be enough of a reason to look elsewhere.
Yes the integration needs to be secure and structurally separated from Tesla’s systems, but that work is already proven to be possible elsewhere. When brands like Mercedes-Benz, Mazerati, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bentley, Audi, Aston Martin, Koenigsegg and many more have added the ability to BYO phone and have a great experience, it’s time for Tesla to reconsider their position.