Both Google and Apple have one destination when it comes to in-car operating systems: the powerhouse OS makers want to not only command the vehicle but own the road and become the favored driver of the consumer.
In a sense it's the same sort of race being played out in smartphones but in this tech scenario the products are much more similar to each other than different and it's that slice of difference that will likely determine the ultimate race winner.
First off, both systems heavily rely on a user's smartphone to function, with the display really only acting as a glorified display. This not only allows greater data sharing between user's cars but helps keep costs down. It also means users won't have to get yet another data plan for their vehicle fleet.
While both systems boast touchscreens, they are also controllable via voice control. While such technology is still not fully mature, for now it is the best way to control a device and is sure to improve down the road. If, however, users don't want to use voice control, both systems can accomplish tasks via a touchscreen as well.
As far as software design goes, the two systems are more different than alike, and that's not surprising. It seems Apple designed CarPlay to look a lot like an iPhone. While this is great for users comfortable with the iPhone interface, it may also limit the things CarPlay can accomplish.
The Android Auto interface is a little less familiar, however avid Android users should have no difficulty with its Google Now style design. The system displays information the driver may need such as navigation, and addresses the driver has recently searched for, and so on.
Apps will be play a big part ahead for both in-car systems. While CarPlay will certainly have support for third-party apps, developers will have to get apps certified for the App Store and then again for CarPlay. This will ensure apps are safe and work well for the in-car experience. However it will make it quite a bit more difficult for developers to get their apps onto the App Store in quick fashion.
Android Auto will also support third-party apps, and developers can use the Android Auto SDK to create the app. This doesn't mean, however, that apps will not go through approval as they will. It means there will be fewer testing glitches because of the narrow hardware spec that will be implemented by car component makers.
Both Android Auto and CarPlay will likely be touted in vehicles arriving in the next few months, but users will not have to buy a new car to enjoy the systems as component makers will make aftermarket decks offering CarPlay and Android Auto.