Dispensing with a large touchscreen has serious effects on the usability of Carplay, as we show with the example of the Audi A4.
Audi has not offered Carplay for a long time. But with the new Q7 and the new A4 (both launched in 2015) that changed. We tested Carplay in the 2016 Audi A4.
Audi smartphone interface
Just like Volkswagen with App-Connect, Skoda with Smartlink and Seat with Full Link Audi also has a special equipment package in which the smartphone interfaces are combined. The Ingolstadt call it Audi Smartphone Interface and charge 400 euros extra for it. In contrast to the parent company and the two sister companies, Audi only combines Carplay and Android Auto under the smartphone interface, but does not use Mirrorlink for known reasons such as lack of ease of use and poor functionality.
The iPhone (from generation 5 and iOS 7.1.2) in the A4 is connected to the USB port of the Audi MMI infotainment system via a Lightning cable. So there is no wireless CarPlay in the Audi A4.
Operation without touch takes getting used to
The Carplay home screen, the icons and the Carplay menus inevitably look exactly the same on the infotainment display of the Audi MMI (Multi Media Interface) as in the vehicles of other automobile brands. Nevertheless, there is one major difference to Carplay in Volkswagen, Seat or Skoda: You cannot operate Carplay via touchscreen. Because the 8.3-inch main screen of the MMI does not have a touchscreen. Instead, you operate Carplay in the Audi just like the rest of the infotainment system in the Audi via the MMI controller installed on the center console, which Audi also calls the infotainment control unit.
Touchscreen in the car – pros and cons
This forces the user to rethink. Because both CarPlay and Android Auto are typically designed for operation by pressing and swiping your finger (if you disregard voice control). In the Audi, on the other hand, turn the MMI controller until you have marked the desired button and then press the touchpad on the MMI controller to make a selection.
Basically we could operate Carplay in the Audi A4 with the MMI controller, but it didn’t work as well as with the touchscreen. Mainly for one reason: You always have to look carefully at the screen to see where the “cursor” is, that is: which button is currently activated by the controller. This search is not necessary with a touchscreen. This means that Carplay in the Audi is automatically less intuitive and, above all, you have to look at the screen longer while driving – bad and dangerous.
So Siri in particular should be used in the Audi to operate Carplay.
To start Siri, press the home button longer as usual, which in the Audi is not located on the left on the Carplay screen, but is implemented by pressing the touch surface of the MMI controller for a longer period of time. Or you can say Hey Siri, provided this function is activated on your smartphone. Good: You can also start Siri with a long press on the steering wheel button for voice control (by the way, a short press starts Audi’s own voice control).
In addition to Siri (started by long pressing the steering wheel button for voice control), the MMI controller on the center console and to the right of the automatic selector lever the smaller volume and mute control for operating Carplay in the A4 are available. The MMI controller has the aforementioned small touchpad, but that doesn’t help much when using Carplay and is only used to switch on Siri and make a selection. On the steering wheel buttons, you can use the voice control button as well as the volume control button to the right of the horn.
Aside from this fundamentally different usability of CarPlay, CarPlay works in the Audi in the same way as in the other vehicles: It is easy to use, clear, reliable and visually appealing. The app features are also unchanged from VW, Skoda or Seat. For the first time, however, we were able to use Spotify sensibly. Apparently, during an update, the Spotify makers improved this music app, which was not exactly user-friendly for a long time under CarPlay.
The icon with the MMI app on the CarPlay home screen leads back to the MMI start menu. You are leaving Carplay, which you can call up again at any time via the corresponding menu item on the MMI screen, provided that an iPhone is connected to the vehicle via a Lightning cable.
Some of the steering wheel buttons are available for Carplay, some from the control panel to the right of the airbag / horn button).
Conclusion: Carplay also offers good access to certain functions of the iPhone in the Audi A4. However, we don’t like the operation via controller and without a touchscreen and it’s not as intuitive as with the touchscreen models.