October 6, 2021

Integrating apps with cars: Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, or Car API platform?

George Szundi

Director of Marketing

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are two ways to integrate apps with most new cars. A car API platform like Smartcar offers a third option that goes beyond the vehicle infotainment system. Learn more about these choices to help you decide on the right approach for your next mobility application.

“How is Smartcar different from Apple CarPlay and Android Auto?”

It’s a fair question and one that we get asked from time to time. On the surface, both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integrate apps with vehicles, so what makes them different from a car API like Smartcar?

Let’s start by taking a closer look at Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and the benefits they provide to developers and vehicle owners.

What are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto?

The need for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto came from an uncomfortable truth — people love using their phones in their cars. Smartphones brought a slew of modern conveniences for drivers, but they also introduced a whole new level of distracted driving.

To address this, Apple and Google set out to help developers create better in-car experiences for iOS and Android apps. For Apple users, the system is called Apple CarPlay, and Google’s solution is called Android Auto.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto aim to empower drivers and improve vehicle safety by integrating smartphones with car infotainment systems. Instead of looking down at their phones, drivers can interact with apps through the vehicle’s more prominent built-in display and infotainment controls.

Drivers simply connect their Apple or Android device to a compatible car via USB or Bluetooth to access the CarPlay or Android Auto infotainment experience.

What can you build for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto?

Apple launched CarPlay in 2014, and Google launched Android Auto soon after in 2015. Since then, every major auto manufacturer, across more than 500 models, now includes support for both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. (Check out the growing list of compatible vehicles for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto)

So what does all this compatibility enable?

The most common set of apps for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto include:

  • Navigation and Parking
  • Music, Podcasts, and Audiobooks
  • Phone and Messaging
  • Virtual assistants

From Waze to Spotify and WhatsApp, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto allow developers to deliver driver-optimized versions of smartphone apps that can be controlled through a car’s touchscreen, steering wheel, or voice control system. In essence, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto bring an app’s interface from the phone screen to the vehicle’s built-in display.

What is Smartcar?

Smartcar, on the other hand, is an API platform for connected cars. Developers integrate their apps with Smartcar to retrieve data from vehicles through our simple, standard, and secure car API.

Let’s take a step back and unpack what that means:

  1. A connected car means it has built-in internet connectivity, which now make up roughly 80% of all vehicles sold in the U.S.
  2. An API, or Application Programming Interface, enables different software applications and services to talk to each other.

So, in a nutshell, Smartcar’s API platform is an intermediary that allows apps and connected cars to communicate with each other.

Unlike Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Smartcar does not connect to cars physically (e.g. USB) or through short-range wireless technology (e.g. Bluetooth or NFC). Instead, Smartcar allows apps to communicate with vehicles through the cloud, leveraging a connected car’s embedded cellular modem — a small piece of hardware that equips the vehicle with internet access.

What can you build with Smartcar?

The types of mobility applications you can build with Smartcar go way beyond the infotainment system. Smartcar offers a standard set of API endpoints for vehicle data, with broad compatibility across many different car makes and models. Some of these endpoints include:

  • Location - A vehicle’s last known geographic location.
  • Odometer - Total mileage traveled by a vehicle.
  • EV battery - State of charge (SoC) and remaining range of an electric vehicle.
  • Fuel tank - Remaining range and fuel remaining in a vehicle’s tank.
  • Tire pressure - Air pressure for each tire from a vehicle’s TPMS.

Additionally, developers can even issue commands to vehicles through their Smartcar powered app. Some of these commands include:

  • Lock/unlock - Lock or unlock a vehicle’s doors.
  • EV charging - Remotely start or stop charging an electric vehicle.

With Smartcar, developers can create apps and services to locate a vehicle, verify mileage, share a virtual key, manage batteries, and more. Popular use cases include:

  • Auto insurance - Verify vehicle mileage and garaging location.
  • Car sharing - Offer contactless rentals with digital car keys.
  • Road usage charge - Charge EV owners a per-mile fee as a replacement for the gas tax.
  • Energy & Utilities - Manage EV charging to optimize the load on the grid.
  • EV charging networks - Estimate EV charging times and schedule charging.
  • Fleet management - See the location, mileage, tire pressure, and fuel tank level of all vehicles in a fleet.


Emovis road usage charge (RUC) application. Learn more →


By offering a set of standardized APIs, Smartcar makes it easy for developers to build innovative mobility apps and services for 112 million vehicles on the road today.

Smartcar vs. Apple CarPlay or Android Auto

It’s no secret that apps are rapidly becoming part of our modern driving experience. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are great ways to incorporate apps into vehicle infotainment systems, while Smartcar is the best way to build mobility apps and services that leverage data from connected cars or even issue commands to compatible vehicles.

Want to explore connected car APIs for your business? Schedule a demo of Smartcar today!


Vehicle brands, logos, and model names belong to their respective trademark holders and do not indicate endorsement or affiliation with Smartcar or Emovis.

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