What does Infotainment mean in a car?

If you’re buying a new car, you’ll likely have come across the term ‘infotainment’. Meaning ‘information’ and ‘entertainment’, infotainment systems are in-built car computers that combine a wide range of functions – from digital radios to in-built reversing cameras.

Infotainment systems work to deliver you entertainment and information in one and are usually mounted in or on the dashboard in the middle of the car. The capabilities of a car’s infotainment system depend on its price and specification, with higher-spec makes and models providing more advanced digital features.

How does an Infotainment System work?

Infotainment systems work in conjunction with other in-vehicle and external systems and are usually controlled by a car touch screen display, button panel or voice command system.

They connect with other smart automotive technologies like Advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) systems, Vehicle-to-everything (V2X) connectivity solutions, sensors and telematics devices.

Some infotainment systems are more intuitive than others, with many of the more recent car models allowing full smartphone integration in the form of Apple CarPlay, MirrorLink or Android Auto. This way, you can directly access a range of apps designed to improve your car’s operations and your overall driving experience.

What are the features available in in-vehicle infotainment system?

The functions available in a car’s infotainment system depends on the make and model of the car. Here are some of the most common features:

  • High-resolution touch screen: Most cars with infotainment systems will include a high-resolution car touch screen displaying on-screen graphics and providing optimal functionality. The screens will be made of LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) or TFT (Thin Film Transistors) and will generally range from 7 to 17 inches long.
  • Smartphone pairing: Drivers can connect their smartphones to their automotive systems via Bluetooth connectivity. This allows you to access your phone’s capabilities while driving. For example, you’ll be able to manage incoming and outgoing calls or listen to your favourite tracks via your audio streaming preferred app.
  • Analog and digital tuners for multi-standard radio reception: Infotainment systems feature AM and FM or DAB/DAB+ digital radio systems, which allow you to easily scan to find available radio stations.
  • Multimedia support: As well as Bluetooth, car infotainment systems can connect to HDMI cables and USBs to deliver content to car display screens, speakers and headphones. This includes picture and video display and a wide range of audio formats.
  • Advanced vehicular functions: Many car models feature advanced car function capabilities as part of their infotainment system packages. This can include things like advanced parking assistance systems with rearview cameras and seatback displays, which allow passengers in the rear to enjoy audio and video entertainment from the back seat.
  • Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility: Using smartphone pairing, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connect to the car’s infotainment system. They work by connecting with Android-based smartphones or iPhones so that you can access Google and Apple-supported iOS apps on the road.
  • Control elements: Infotainment systems are controlled via a wide range of control elements, which connect the system with the driver and passengers. These include car touch screen displays, voice commands, button panels and more.
  • Support vehicle functions: Car infotainment systems are becoming increasingly geared to improve the car’s safety and support features. Many systems include functions like parking sensors and assistance, climate control and daytime running lights (DRL) indicators, which allow you to do things like dim the front lights from the car display screen when driving in the dark.

What is Apple CarPlay?

Apple CarPlay is a feature that allows you to safely use and access your iPhone in the car. It works by connecting your phone to the car via Bluetooth connectivity, wireless iPhone integration or a USB lead.

Once connected, Apple CarPlay presents a home screen display similar to that of an iPhone on your car’s in-built display. With Apple CarPlay, you can access a selection of apps supported for in-car use, including iMessage, Calendar, Audiobooks and Podcasts.

You can also use Apple CarPlay to make and return calls and listen to voicemail. And by connecting your smartphone to access Apple Music, you can search for your favourite songs, see what’s playing and access over 100,000 live radio stations.

Apple CarPlay can be controlled via knobs and controls, a touch screen panel (if your car is equipped with one) and Siri voice control. The aim is to make your drive easier, safer and more enjoyable.

Selected car models produced from 2021 onwards also feature Apple Car Key, which allows you to unlock and start your car via your iPhone.

What is Android Auto?

Android Auto is similar to Apple CarPlay, except it works with smartphones that use version 5.0 or later of the Android ‘Lollipop’ operating system. There are many compatible Android phones including those by Samsung, LG, HTC and Google’s Nexus and Pixel phones.

Once Android Auto has connected to your car’s infotainment system, it presents your Android apps onscreen so that you can make calls, play music, find directions and check the weather safely while driving. There is a wide range of apps available including everything from Spotify and Skype to Amazon Music and Audiobooks.

Like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto can be controlled by voice commands so that you can keep your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road while driving.

What is MirrorLink?

MirrorLink is another smartphone connectivity system that connects your smartphone with your car’s in-built infotainment. Again, it works via Bluetooth connectivity or a USB cable.

Once connected, it presents your phone’s home screen on your car’s digital display so that you can access calls and music while driving. Like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, MirrorLink has certain apps that have been specifically designed for in-car use. This includes apps from selected car manufacturers including MYPeugeot, Skoda Drive and MYCitroen.

MirrorLink only works with MirrorLink-enabled smartphones and MirrorLink-enabled vehicles. It’s available on more cars and smartphones around the world than any other connectivity method. This includes Android or Symbian operating systems, but not Apple devices, unfortunately.

While Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink are built to allow you to access information and entertainment safely and responsibly, they can still cause a distraction. Make sure to keep your eyes on the road at all times while driving and if a call can wait until you’ve finished driving, then it should. And remember – watching videos and browsing the internet while driving is illegal.

Infotainment Screens

The size, style and quality of infotainment car screens vary by the car make and model. However, if you’re looking to make your driving experience as easy, safe and comfortable as possible, consider an infotainment car screen that’s on the larger side.

This way, you’ll be able to see and navigate the overall infotainment system a lot better. After all, app buttons will appear larger and the car touch screen panel won’t be as fiddly as it might be on smaller screens.

When it comes to picture quality, the more luxurious car models naturally provide a higher definition and clarity (and often they’re larger too). For example, the Tesla Model S comes with one of the best car infotainment systems, featuring a 17-inch portrait-style touch screen with a 1920 x 1200 resolution LCD display.

Meanwhile, cars on the cheaper end of the scale won’t be as impressive. When you’re using and relying on functions like camera displays while reversing your car, picture size and quality can make all the difference.

Controlling infotainment screens

Infotainment screens can be controlled by car touch screen displays, voice commands or traditional button panels often positioned between the two front seats or on the steering wheel.

When buying your car, it’s worth thinking about how you would like to communicate with your infotainment system as the operation quality can differ massively depending on the car.

Voice activation systems are becoming increasingly popular for in-car infotainment systems – namely because they provide a safer and hassle-free way to access functions without having to take your hands off the steering wheel or eyes off the road.

Luxurious cars like the Mercedes MBUX feature sophisticated voice activation systems that wake up as soon as you say “Hey Mercedes”. Meanwhile, some cheaper models can only understand very basic commands, while also requiring button prompting.

Since voice activation isn’t available as standard on all cars with infotainment systems, it’s worth considering the safety and ease of what is available. The best infotainment systems make it easy to connect with them, providing a logical layout that will save you from having to faff around looking for buttons while driving.

Keep an eye out for cars with a ‘home’ button too – this will help you jump easily between menus and access functions with the minimum number of button presses.

Now that you know the many features that come with infotainment systems, think about the functions and car screen size you require and the type of smartphone you’d like to pair up with your system – if any at all.