Apple CarPlay is Business Insider's 2018 Infotainment System of the Year

Hollis JohnsonApple CarPlay is the big winner!
  • AppleCarPlay is the winner of Business Insider’s 2018 Infotainment System of the Year.
  • AppleCarPlay beat out four other systems, from Audi, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, General Motors, and Tesla.
  • CarPlay is unique in that it can be used in different vehicles from different manufacturers, overriding the quirks of proprietary infotainment systems.

Several years ago, the transportation team at Business Insider decided that in-vehicle infotainment systems were turning into a huge selling point for consumers.

Our interest neatly coincided with automakers seriously amping up their offerings, ranging from 4G LTE WiFi connectivity and over-the-air software updates to suites of apps that allow various types of e-commerce from the comfort of a car.

So we created the Infotainment System of the Year award. Audi took the prize in 2016 and 2017, and, if anything, the competition has stiffened since. Consumers are more demanding than ever of the technology and connectivity features in their vehicles.

As we said last year, if you aren’t aiming for state-of-the-art, particularly in the luxury realm, you’re falling behind. A really great infotainment system makes car ownership a pleasure; a poor system makes it a chore.

Safety first

Car companies have to tread carefully with how they control the use of connectivity in vehicles. Both Consumer Reports and JD Power have recounted frequent owner complaints about balky systems.

Our methodology for choosing an Infotainment System of the Year hasn’t changed since 2016. We consider a great system to be one that performs all its functions relatively seamlessly and with as much of an intuitive interface as possible.

Right now, voice-recognition technologies are still at an early stage, but we certainly appreciate when a manufacturer’s setup works as advertised and isn’t clunkier than the more dangerous manual-entry-of-info modes. We also appreciate it if an infotainment system is part of a carmaker’s business case for its vehicles and its technology.

Reliability, ease of use, precision (especially when it comes to navigation), and the ability of a system to be operated while driving without endangering anyone were top criteria for our choice – which involved debate and discussion all year long among senior correspondent Matt DeBord, senior transportation reporter Ben Zhang, and deputy executive editor Cadie Thompson.

This year’s finalists were:

  • Apple CarPlay
  • Audi MMI-Virtual Cockpit
  • FCA Uconnect
  • General Motors MyLink/IntelliLink/Cue plus OnStar
  • Tesla Infotainment System

The big winner

Apple carplay mercedesDaimlerCarPlay integrates with infotainment systems from numerous automakers.

Apple CarPlay is our Infotainment System of the Year winner for 2018!

You might consider this an odd choice, given than CarPlay isn’t a stand-alone infotainment but rather an iPhone software interface for cars. It typically has to integrate with an automaker’s in-vehicle system by being plugged into a USB port.

But the truth is we now routinely use CarPlay to benchmark proprietary infotainment systems, especially when it comes to ease of use. And CarPlay is portable; it can be used in multiple vehicles from different manufacturers. We often found CarPlay to be a handy tool when we encounter a poor user interface. Plug in CarPlay, and it’s smooth sailing from there.

Siri is better than the majority of voice-recognition setups we test, and being able to use Apple Maps or Google Maps through a smartphone is often more effective than relying on the in-dash navigation software.

Read more: Acura ELS Studio 3D is Business Insider’s Car Audio System of the Year

Accessing your media, stored on your iPhone or streamed, is also easier through CarPlay. And best of all, if you like aspects of your vehicle’s infotainment system but prefer some CarPlay functions, you can toggle back and forth.

What really gave CarPlay the crown this year, though, was an observation that both Matt and Ben have made about younger drivers. They genuinely don’t like it when CarPlay isn’t available – that is, no matter how good an automaker’s own system is, if CarPlay isn’t on the menu, they’re disappointed – and they might consider that a deal breaker.

Ben is younger than Matt, who isn’t as infotainment-centric, and Ben considers it a negative if an automaker doesn’t provide CarPlay integration. Other, younger staffers who’ve reviewed vehicles for Business Insider have been even less tolerant of a no-CarPlay situation.

In fact, this has become such a thing that we’re now adding Android Auto testing to our reviewing process, to be fair to the other major technology actor in this space.

Beyond the degree to which CarPlay lets motorists use their iPhones more safely, the technology suggests to us that Apple will become more deeply involved in the user interface of automobiles going forward. What CarPlay currently does is fairly modest, but in the coming years Apple could remake the entire dashboard. We’re looking forward to what the company comes up with.

The runner-up

Audi R8 V10+ 18Hollis JohnsonAudi’s MMI-Virtual Cockpit remains a force to be reckoned with.

We certainly can’t overlook Audi’s MMI system. As we said last year when it took the prize, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. It does everything well, from managing audio to providing superb and accurate navigation powered by Google Maps. It also has Bluetooth integration along with Audi Connect 4G LTE connectivity and a cluster of apps.

And it does all this without being a touchscreen system! A central infotainment screen emerges from the dashboard, but you use a knob, buttons, and a touchpad to access the menus and features. In practice, it works flawlessly, and thanks to the way it’s organised, you won’t be taking your eyes off the road as often as with touchscreen-style systems.

Audi A4 4Hollis JohnsonAudi MMI running Apple CarPlay.

What puts MMI into “hard-to-catch” territory is the Virtual Cockpit feature, available on most Audi models. Virtual Cockpit impressively transforms the main instrument cluster into a customisable digital screen.

It can, for example, display the navigation map and send the traditional gauges to the corners of the screen. This means a driver’s eyes are front and center much of the time, rather than darting between the road ahead, the infotainment screen, and the instruments (as well as the rearview and side-view mirrors).

Audi’s MMI-Virtual Cockpit system is a remarkable setup that has helped Audi rise to the top tier of the US luxury market, previously ruled by the big three luxury automakers: Mercedes, BMW, and Lexus.

For the record, the other three infotainment systems we considered this year are also quite excellent. Of particular note is Uconnect, which is often overlooked and somewhat underrated for how effective it is.

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