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The Quirks of Apple CarPlay and the Pioneer AVH-NEX4000 Head Unit

I’ve recently gone from working mostly out of my house to working daily at an office anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour away depending on traffic. Shortly after that transition, I decided to upgrade my in-car experience. I’m a huge Sirius/XM fan, and a Waze user, a needer of bluetooth, and an Apple user, and I also figured it was time to see what Apple CarPlay was all about. After a bunch of research, it looked like no one really handles Waze integration well yet. There are middleware platforms that will display it on your head unit but not let you control it, and that sucks. Pioneer has a car app experience (AppRadio) that includes Waze, but everything I read about it says it’s laggy and buggy enough to be unfun and, again, you’re not entirely controlling it from the head unit. So I figured I’d do pass-through audio on the Waze and go with what looked like the best CarPlay head unit for my price range – the Pioneer AVH-NEX4000. I’ve been using it for several months now, and given the current state of the industry I’m happy with it on balance. But I’m ready to start rounding up my observations on its quirks, whether they’re specific to CarPlay or just to the Pioneer tech. This will be fun to read in a couple of years, I hope, after CarPlay becomes a much more supported and evolved platform.

  • Unintentional source switching: The scenario is that I have my iPhone connected via CarPlay, and for whatever reason decide to look at Facebook on my phone. Well any time I switch the phone to an app that the head unit probably interprets as having audio, the head unit switches out of whatever it’s doing (playing Sirius XM, for example) and goes in to iPhone audio mode. This immediately takes me out of whatever I’m enjoying and harshes the multitasking mellow. What’s more, sometimes it happens without actually switching the source control on the head unit, so it says “Sirius XM” but no sound is coming out. When that happens I have to manually switch to some other input source and then switch back.
  • Using Waze with audio alerts kills the ability to do anything else simultaneously: Similar problem to the above, but not identical. If I choose to use Waze on my phone and have the audio come through the system via Bluetooth, any time an audio alert or direction comes through, it immediately switches the head unit away from Sirius XM, the FM tuner, or the DVD player in to Bluetooth audio mode. This makes it impossible to use navigation and listen to music, reasonably, at the same time. And that’s not cool, especially when I have Vlade Divac chosen in Waze so his droll voice kills my music.
  • Relative and absolute volume quirks: This probably isn’t all that specific to this head unit – it’s a real UX challenge. Audio levels for the various sources is controlled in a nested menu as increased or decreased relative to the level of the terrestrial radio receiver. So if I want the Sirius to be “louder,” in this menu I dial it up +2 over the loudness of the radio, and that’s how it’s expressed, as a relative number like “+2” or “-1.” Now when I’m in any particular input source, it has its own audio level control, but there’s no global audio control, so I’m constantly fiddling with levels, especially as I go from city to highway and then pull in to work. I’ve developed a tic where every time I exit the car, I dial down the audio level significantly to make sure my ears aren’t blasted out next time I get in.
  • Apple Maps Fights Your Rerouting: This one is specific to Apple Maps, not CarPlay or Pioneer. It seems like Apple Maps is really stubborn about its chosen route, and will often fight hard to continue to route me back “on track” even though I’m obviously making progress towards my destination and have chosen to go a different way. Since car nav is completely impressive and awesome to me, I hesitate to say “obviously” – I have no idea how it’s obvious to the GPS in other cases – but dynamic rerouting is a feature Waze has down cold so it’s always jarring when I decide to go with the CarPlay preferred Apple Maps app and it lets me down like this.
  • No Wifi Capability, Hence No Wireless CarPlay: I guess in its most recent update Apple unlocked the ability for CarPlay to work wirelessly instead of through a lightning cable. But since the Pioneer deck doesn’t have a Wifi card (or so I’ve read) this isn’t a feature that’s now available to me. The lightning cable is not a huge deal, but that’s still a bummer.

There will be more quirk reporting as I remember/think about more quirks.

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