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What is Apple CarPlay?

Cars are no longer bought just for their engines and how many they seat. Now, infotainment demands some room on every car buyer’s agenda. Apple CarPlay supplies users with everything on their phone now at the tips of their fingers in the dash.

With the ability to do everything your phone can, Apple CarPlay allows the driver to safely use apps, call friends and family, and integrate your favorite music, shows, and podcasts into your car. This is just the start of what your car is capable of with Apple CarPlay.

Not an iPhone user? Curious about what Android Auto is? We have you covered.

What can Apple CarPlay do?

Apple CarPlay — Apple calls it the ultimate co-pilot — 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,” “get directions to Cafe Rio,” or “play Chumbawamba” and Siri will obey. Motorists 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. The whole point of the software is to reduce distractions, after all.

Some third-party apps are compatible with — and optimized for — CarPlay. The best CarPlay apps for the iPhone includes iHeartRadio, Spotify, Pandora, Waze, WhatsApp, Amazon Music, CBS Radio, Tidal, and NPR One. Surprisingly, Apple CarPlay also supports some apps developed by rival Google. Google Play Music and Google Maps are both accessible via the software.

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. While Google has helped automakers — notably Volvo — develop infotainment systems, no one has inked a similar partnership with Apple — at least not yet.

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. You won’t be able to run CarPlay if you’re still using an iPhone with a 30-pin connector, or if you have an iPad.

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.

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 Huracan Evo. Volvo, Honda, Chevrolet, BMW, Ford, and Porsche are among the dozens of brands that offer CarPlay compatibility. Note that some companies make customers pay extra for the tech, while others include it as standard equipment.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Toyota spent years resisting CarPlay — and Google’s rival software, Android Auto — due to safety and privacy concerns. The Japanese firm recently changed its mind and started offering CarPlay on some of its models, including the 2019 RAV4, the 2019 Corolla Hatch, and the 2019 Avalon. Toyota-owned Lexus also started rolling out the software in some of its cars like the ES and the RX. It’s safe to bet others will follow; the floodgates of consumer demand have now opened.

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, so we built a guide outlining all the cars that can currently be equipped with CarPlay. The story is different in Europe, where automakers have been slower to adopt the technology.

The list of used cars compatible with CarPlay is getting longer every year. However, if you’re driving a 1980s BMW or something even older, keep in mind that Alpine, Kenwood, Pioneer, and Sony all sell CarPlay-compatible aftermarket systems that bring cutting-edge smartphone integration to the world of winter beaters and classic cars.

What’s new with Apple CarPlay?

Apple offers regular updates to its CarPlay software, adding new features, improving compatibility, and generally making life better for car owners. Here’s a look at recent changes to the infotainment software.

iOS 13: Coinciding with the launch of iOS 13, Apple announced a number of updates for CarPlay at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, California, on June 3, 2019. They change the overall look of CarPlay, which has become an integral part of countless commutes since launching in 2014. Apple claims CarPlay is now available in 90% of new cars sold in the United States.

The updated CarPlay gets a new “Dashboard” view that lets users see multiple apps at once. So drivers can now have navigation and music functions open at the same time, on the same screen. That functionality is available on some automakers’ built-in infotainment systems, but this is the first time it’s been applied to CarPlay. The music display has also been redesigned to better emphasize album artwork as well, according to Apple.

Finally, CarPlay will overlay Siri’s voice recognition on top of other apps. Using Siri may help drivers achieve a more streamlined user experience — the current interface is a bit clunky. Right now, you have to open a dedicated screen to activate Siri, which doesn’t make the tool easy to use. Apple also recently added a calendar app to CarPlay. Now, Siri can work with third-party navigation and audio apps. Read all about the changes here.

iOS 12: In 2018, Apple announced an important update to their iPhone. Popular American apps, such as Google Maps and Waze, will now be offered as support for third-party navigation apps.

For the Apple users who prefer to navigate from their phones instead of using software like CarPlay, you may find this update fits your preferences. We can completely relate; Driving while also trying to navigate is anxiety-inducing. This update could help make your trips a little less bumpy by connecting popular third-party navigation apps like Waze and Google Maps. In addition to the update, Apple vows that its Carplay function will still be useful. 

Speakers at the WWDC keynote were the first to share the update on the new third-party app support. It came as a surprise to many people, even though the announcement was just a footnote in this press release. Some believe this could just be the tip of something more for the company. 

The new tech indicates that the company understands that its CarPlay service doesn’t hold up to popular navigation apps. Apple even shared a program called TryRating, which asked people to try out Apple Maps and suggest areas of improvement. The company then planned to take the feedback and track down some solutions for the app’s accuracy problems. Apple is still working to incorporate that feedback; You can read about the most recent and upcoming changes here.

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Ronan Glon
Ronan Glon is an American automotive and tech journalist based in southern France. As a long-time contributor to Digital…
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