What is Apple CarPlay?

Ronan Glon
·6-min read

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.

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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.

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: For the 2018 update to the iPhone, Apple announced a significant update to CarPlay: support for third-party navigational apps. On the list are Google Maps and Waze, the two most popular options in America today. For many users who eschew CarPlay altogether in favor of phone-based navigation, third-party support could be a major improvement. Connecting major navigation apps helps streamline commutes and reduce transportation stress when you head to new locations. Plus, Apple’s workaround ensures that Apple CarPlay doesn’t become obsolete.

The addition of support for Google Maps and Waze was a bit surprising. We did notice the brevity of the announcement in the WWDC keynote. Also, the news was only a footnote in this press release, hinting at something more.

This tells us that Apple does believe that its service cannot stack up next to some of the competitors. They even released a program called TryRating, where users can test out the Apple Maps software and provide feedback so Apple can determine what steps they need to take. This program attempted to provide solutions to the app’s accuracy issues. There are many changes that consumers would like to see. You can read more about the most recent and upcoming changes here.