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Google Maps in CarPlay isn’t the dream you’ve been waiting for

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Google’s navigation apps in Apple’s CarPlay leave a lot to be desired

Apple’s iOS 12 update didn’t bring many changes to the in-car CarPlay system that’s been around for a few years. But there is one notable improvement: it now supports third-party navigation apps. Yes, that’s right. That means you can now use Google Maps, Waze, or some other navigation app in CarPlay instead of Apple’s default Maps app.

Both Google Maps and Waze have released updates to their iOS apps that added support for CarPlay already, and I’ve been testing them for the past week or so. Unfortunately, due to CarPlay’s inherent limitations and a number of bugs and performance issues, neither Google Maps or Waze are particularly compelling compared to their Android Auto counterparts or even Apple’s own Maps app.

Enabling Google Maps and Waze in CarPlay is as simple as installing the latest updates from the App Store on your phone and plugging it into a compatible CarPlay head unit in your car. Both apps will show up as icons on the CarPlay home screen, which you can then tap for directions and navigation.

Waze in CarPlay.

If you’ve been using Apple Maps in CarPlay, you’re going to find that Google Maps and Waze look rather familiar. That’s because Apple imposes a lot of restrictions on the way CarPlay apps are allowed to look, so all of the information, buttons, and options are generally laid out in the same way across all three apps. Google Maps and Waze do have their own color schemes and some other app-specific features that aren’t available in Apple Maps, but the main interface and directions are presented in the same way as Apple’s app.

What you won’t find in either Google Maps or Waze is the ability to get directions via Siri, through a microphone button on your steering wheel, the Hey Siri voice command, or long-pressing the home button on the CarPlay screen. Apple limits Siri interactions to its own apps. So just like how you can’t ask Siri to play something in Spotify, you also can’t ask it to give you directions to your house in Google Maps.

That’s the first big frustration with using Google Maps or Waze because once you’re driving down the road, voice control is the primary way you’re able to interact with CarPlay apps. Doing so via a steering wheel button is extremely convenient. Google has built in its own voice control system to Google Maps and Waze, but to access it, you have to tap a button on the screen before issuing your command, which means you have to take your eyes off of the road for a second or two. The way around this is to program your destination before you start driving, but that’s not always possible. Google also provides one-tap buttons to frequent locations, such as home, work, saved places, and gas stations.

Google Maps in CarPlay.
Google Maps voice controls in CarPlay.

One thing that Google Maps offers that Apple Maps lacks is a satellite view so you can see what the road and area you’re driving around actually looks like from above, as opposed to the standard map view. I’ve never found this particularly useful, but some people might like it. Waze also has its own special features related to its unique functions, so you can report a police car, accident, or construction on the road with just a couple of taps on the screen.

Both Waze and Google Maps make it easy to take alternate routes instead of the default, which is something that’s harder to do in CarPlay. Waze also has its extensive traffic database that will reroute you to a faster path if it finds one, which is generally better than Apple or Google’s guidance. That’s probably the best reason to use it over Apple Maps, especially if you frequently drive in an area with heavy traffic.

But if you’ve been using Waze on your phone for years, you’ll probably miss some features that aren’t available in the CarPlay version. There are no automatic prompts to start navigation to frequently driven destinations, and the map view in Waze won’t alert you when you’ve exceeded the speed limit. (It will tell you the speed limit on the road you’re traveling on, but it won’t alert if you’ve exceeded it.) It’s not clear to me if Waze is able to add these features later or if it’s just a limitation of what it can do in CarPlay, but I missed both of them while testing the apps.

Google Maps in CarPlay.
Google Maps in CarPlay.

I tested the CarPlay versions of Google Maps and Waze in two different vehicles, one with an aftermarket CarPlay head unit and one with a CarPlay system built in from the factory. In the aftermarket unit, I had a lot of problems with Google Maps and Waze tracking my location and rerouting me when I went off the recommended path; Apple Maps had zero issues. Google Maps would also just freeze for minutes at a time and not update my location on the display. Neither Google Maps or Waze would switch to a night mode when my car’s headlights came on, despite the fact that Apple Maps does. It’s bad enough that I couldn’t rely on either of them for directions. (In the same vehicle with the same head unit, neither Google Maps or Waze had issues with routing or switching between day and night modes in Android Auto.)

In the car with the factory-installed CarPlay system, I saw fewer tracking and routing issues, and both apps did switch to night mode when appropriate, but everything still felt buggier and less stable than Apple Maps. If I’m traveling somewhere unfamiliar, Apple Maps is just more reliable to use than Google Maps or Waze in CarPlay, which is frankly surprising to say.

Waze in CarPlay.

Hardcore users of Google Maps and especially Waze will likely appreciate having these new options in their CarPlay-compatible vehicles. But due to the limitations and bugs I’ve encountered while testing them, Apple Maps still provides the better CarPlay experience. Hopefully, both apps will improve over time after some updates, but there’s no fixing their lack of hands-free voice commands.