What is Apple CarPlay? Here’s all you need to know about iOS in your dashboard

Apple CarPlay expands its offerings with Tidal compatibility

What is Apple CarPlay Volvo XC90

Apple may never design a car from scratch, but the California-based tech giant is nonetheless a player in the automotive industry. Launched in 2014 after a lengthy development process, CarPlay software overlays itself on top of a car’s factory-loaded infotainment system. What is Apple CarPlay, though, and how exactly does it work? In short, it gives iPhone-wielding motorists a quick and convenient way to access the data stored on their device.

CarPlay makes driving safer by reducing distractions, at least according to Apple, and it’s more user-friendly than many OEM infotainment systems. That’s because motorists can access a wide array of features without touching their mobile device, or taking their eyes off the road. If you’re ready for iOS in your dashboard, here’s everything you need to know about Apple CarPlay.

Not an iPhone user? Curious about what Android Auto is? We’ve got you covered.

What can Apple CarPlay do?

Apple CarPlay performs many of the same functions as an iPhone. Motorists can use the software to get turn-by-turn directions, make calls, send and receive text messages, and listen to music or podcasts. The features are displayed on an easy-to-use interface with large icons that iPhone users will instantly recognize.

The bulk of CarPlay’s features can be accessed using Siri, Apple’s digital assistant. For example, the driver can say “call Alex K,” “get directions to Cafe Rio,” or “play Dropkick Murphys” and Siri will obey. A motorist whose car isn’t equipped with voice-recognition technology can navigate the software using the touchscreen embedded in the dashboard, or the various knobs and buttons typically found on the steering wheel and center console. The iPhone’s screen is locked when CarPlay is active.

A small selection of third-party apps are compatible with — and optimized for — CarPlay. Early adopters included iHeartRadio, Spotify, Pandora, and Stitcher. Entering the game a bit later was Tidal, who announced in December that it was finally joining the party. Now, folks can stream Jay Z or Beyonce’s albums straight to their cars. In a tweet announcing the integration, Tidal noted, “Get ready to access all your favorite music and Tidal playlists right from your car’s dashboard.”

However, vehicle settings aren’t part of CarPlay, so the driver has to exit the application to adjust the climate control temperature, browse radio stations, or select a different driving mode.

Which phones are compatible with Apple CarPlay?

Motorists who want Apple’s operating system in their dashboard need a compatible iPhone. Every iPhone since the 5 is CarPlay-friendly, though the device needs to run iOS 7.1 or newer for the app to work.

Some cars support wireless CarPlay, too. In the ones that don’t, the iPhone needs to be physically connected to the car via a certified Lightning-to-USB cable. That means you should plan an upgrade if you’re still living with a 30-pin iPhone.

Which cars are compatible with Apple CarPlay?

A wide variety of models from all over the automotive spectrum are compatible with Apple CarPlay. They range from relatively basic cars such as the Chevrolet Spark to high-end supercars like the Lamborghini Aventador S. Volvo, Honda, Chevrolet, Ford, and Porsche are among the dozens of brands that offer CarPlay compatibility, all . Note that some companies make customers pay extra for the tech, while others include it as standard equipment.

What is CarPlay

The notable exception is Toyota, which continues to resist CarPlay — and Google’s rival software, Android Auto — due to safety and privacy concerns. Instead, the Japanese brand has turned to a small, California-based company named Telenav for its brought-in infotainment system. However, Toyota might reconsider its decision once it has evaluated how CarPlay protects customer data, and whether it truly helps drivers stay focused on the road ahead.

All told, if you’re in the market for a new car, it’s not difficult to find one equipped with Apple CarPlay — there are hundreds if you live in North America and we recently put together a guide outlining all the cars that can currently be equipped with CarPlay. The story is different in Europe, where auto-makers have been slower to adopt the technology.

The list of used cars compatible with CarPlay is still relatively short because the software hasn’t been on the market for very long. However, Alpine, Kenwood, Pioneer, and Sony all sell CarPlay-compatible aftermarket systems that bring smartphone integration to the world of winter beaters and classic cars.

How to connect your iPhone to Apple CarPlay

Whether you’ve purchased a vehicle equipped with Apple CarPlay from the factory or found a suitable aftermarket system that includes the software, you’ll need to connect your iPhone. Fortunately, the process couldn’t be simpler.

Depending on the vehicle or aftermarket system, you can connect your device either via USB or Bluetooth (or both). If your car only supports USB connection, try this:

Plug your iPhone into the USB port. For most vehicles, any USB port will do, but some have a specific port labeled with an Apple CarPlay icon or a smartphone icon. If the Apple CarPlay Home screen doesn’t appear, select the CarPlay logo on your car’s display.

If your car supports Bluetooth pairing, follow these steps:

Press and hold the Voice Control button on your steering wheel,  or make sure that your car is in wireless or Bluetooth pairing mode. Then, on your iPhone, go to Settings > General > CarPlay > Available Cars and select your vehicle.

That’s it! Once you’re connected, you’ll be able to use Siri voice commands for any Apple CarPlay functions and will have essentially transformed your infotainment system into a giant iPhone screen. Now get out there and CarPlay!

Update: Added Tidal compatibility with CarPlay.