Apple’s CarPlay solution does fantastic things for the daily commute by bringing the iOS experience to the dashboard. Many car manufacturers have already signed up to bring CarPlay support to their lines in the near future. Some have already integrated CarPlay into existing models. It’s a technology to consider if you’re in the market for a new car. But many will be interested in adding CarPlay to their existing ride by way of a third part, or aftermarket, headunit. Numerous aftermarket stereo manufactures have already released systems that support CarPlay. The most recent hardware supports CarPlay as well as Google’s alternative: Android Auto.
In an effort to cope with an 2 hour+ commute each day, I added a Pioneer AVH-4100NEX to my 2007 Trailblazer. An impressive aftermarket car stereo, it has a fast, responsive touch screen and excellent CarPlay support. Siri can be activated with a long press of a button on the bezel of the headunit. As is the case with all of the current Pioneer models, the iPhone must be attached to the headunit via a cable in order for CarPlay to work. Apple has added Wireless CarPlay to recent versions of the iOS but Pioneer models such as mine lack the wi-fi capabilities required to leverage the wire-free version of CarPlay. So, in the case of my AVH-4100NEX, the USB cable is my friend.
CarPlay makes playing music from my iPhone a dream. The CarPlay user interface is easy to navigate and provides easy access to all the music stored on my iPhone. Third party apps are gaining CarPlay support, too. As they do, they get their application icon on the CarPlay screen just like the apps Apple supports out of the box (Music, Audiobooks, Maps, and Phone). Pandora and Spotify have recently made their way to the dashboard. So has Audible.
After using CarPlay for nearly 6 months, one glitch continues to cause me trouble: audio books. Through multiple iOS updates, audio book support in CarPlay continues to have a major issue. When CarPlay was first released, audio book support was provided through the Music app. With an update to the iOS, audio book support was moved out of the Music app and into iBooks. When this happened, Apple placed a more appropriately name AudioBooks app on the CarPlay screen. The books accessible from this app are those loaded into the iPhone and otherwise played through iBooks. But after multiple iOS updates, iBooks/Audiobooks continues to have a serious bug. The app randomly and routinely loses its place in the book!
If you want a problem that gets frustrating quickly, try losing your place in a 15 hour-long audio recording. The first time it happens, you grind your teeth while fast forwarding through the book and trying to find where you left off. The second time your place is lost, you’re blood pressure is going to spike to a new high. The third time it happens? Well… lets just say you’re wishing very bad things on the developers responsible for audiobook integration on the iOS team. And a word of caution—when you lose your place in an audio book, you can’t find it again while driving. Pull over or switch over to music until you’re parked. If you try to scrub through a book or fast forward through that much audio while driving, you’re going to get yourself (and others) killed.
As I stated, this remains a long-standing issue for the iOS. Is it unique to CarPlay? Based on the frustration I’ve observed on message boards, I think this goes beyond the dashboard.; perhaps an iBooks related issues more than a CarPlay problem. Whichever it is, having this happen while driving turns a small technical glitch into a potentially disastrous issue should the driver not have the metal fortitude to wait until parked before seeking their lost chapter.
Whatever the cause, I have finally found a workaround. It’s the reason of this now long-winded blog post. How do you prevent the Audiobooks/iBooks app from losing your place? The only surefire solution is to ditch the pair of apps entirely. This is easier said than done since Apple isn’t generous when it comes to allowing non-Apple apps access to the dashboard via CarPlay. The good news is that the Audible app has been approved for use with CarPlay. And it can play mp3 audio books loaded via iTunes. So you’re not stuck with iBooks horrible audio book support. Best off all? Whatever the hell continues to be wrong with iBooks, Audible doesn’t randomly lose your place in the book!
The Audible app isn’t without its own quirks. First of all, it prefers to play books you’ve purchased from Audible. That’s understandable. But it seems to urge this by only providing access to Audible provided books via the dashboard interface. Interestingly, it turns out that if you’re playing a non-Audible book via the Audible app when you plug the iPhone into the CarPlay USB cable, the book will pickup playing through the car’s speakers. You’ll even get the ability to control the book via the dashboard interface. Oddly those controls are only present for Audible provided books unless you know to plug-in an already playing book. It’s an odd work around, but hopefully an issue Audible will address in an upcoming release. Either that, or maybe Apple will one day get its act together and fix what’s wrong with its own audio book support. iBooks is supposed to sync your play position to the cloud so you can pickup where you left off on other devices. Not only is that broken, but it seems to be working against users if forum feedback is any indication.
Of course, if you’re buying your books direct from Audible (Audible.com—a devision of Amazon), you’re golden. No problems at all. I’m still looking for a way to make my mp3 audio books look like they came from Audible. Presumably it’s only matter of adding the appropriate meta tag(s) to the digital files. If I can sort that out, my non-Audible books will show up in the app’s main list without any foolishness involving the timing of when I plug into the car.
Admittedly, this is a lot of screwing around just to keep from loosing one’s place in an audiobook. But I maintain that, once it’s happened to you once or twice, these silly little workarounds seem trivial and a small price to pay for maintaining one’s sanity…and perhaps preventing a horrible fiery car wreck.
Come on Apple! Let’s get this sorted out. Have you seen how many people are complaining about this issue in your own forums? Wow!