Car Advice

What is Apple CarPlay?

Apple CarPlay… it’s talked about in just about every new car review… but what is Apple CarPlay?

Three years since we first published this story, Apple CarPlay is now in just about every mainstream car on sale. Here’s the latest information, including the update for Apple CarPlay iOS 13 and the features that brings.

IF YOU’RE IN the market for a new car, chances are high that you’ve already heard the term ‘Apple CarPlay’ thrown about, and most reviews will point out if a car has or hasn’t got it. But just what is Apple CarPlay, what does it do, and does it really matter if a car has it, or not?

Apple CarPlay is, essentially, a better way to use a phone handsfree. It nearly always provides better integration than Bluetooth and given nearly all new cars come with a touchscreen it makes sense, as it allows most of what you see on your phone to be displayed on the car’s infotainment screen. It allows for doing more than just making calls, such as using apps like maps, Spotify, Waze, Apple Music, WhatsApp, and messages, and can all be used with Siri voice control.

For most manufacturers, it also saves needing to implement and maintain navigation software, which makes the production of the infotainment unit cheaper. Though this means if you don’t have an iPhone you might miss out on navigation altogether; although most systems running Apple CarPlay also offer Android Auto – here’s the 101 on how to use Android Auto

For the most part, it’s a win for both consumers and manufacturers, but not all car companies are happy about having to incorporate it.

A short history

When Apple iOS 4 was released in 2010, the system software added a feature known as ‘iPod Out’. It enabled a basic home screen video feed from Apple devices over its cable connection along with a return feed to control the device. This is essentially the backbone of how Apple CarPlay now works.

Where it all began

At the time, BMW Technology USA, located down the road from Apple’s headquarters, saw an opportunity for hands free integration and joined Apple to develop the feature into what is now known as Apple CarPlay. But by the time it officially launched, BMW dissociated itself from the venture and declared it would not be integrating Apple CarPlay.

In 2015, the Ferrari FF was the first car to feature CarPlay, and subsequently over 100 cars now use it.

Since then, BMW has doubled-back and integrated CarPlay in its 2017 5-Series. It even became the first manufacturer to feature wireless CarPlay connectivity. Audi now offers wireless CarPlay and more manufacturers are starting to go wireless.

Apple CarPlay iOS 13

The latest Apple CarPlay update is iOS 13 and it brings some new features. The biggest change is the introduction of a dashboard for the home screen that can show multiple apps such as navigation and the music player together. This makes the system less distracting since you don’t need to swipe between screens to change a song while using maps. Music streaming services such as Apple Music, Spotify, Audible, Amazone Music and Pocket Casts work with CarPlay 13, though only Apple Music, Spotify, Audible, or Pocket Casts can show on the dashboard with maps running. And unlike before when you could not use the phone without the car’s screen going to the home page, someone can now use the phone to do something else while the infotainment screen continues to show an app like maps.

Part of the new system includes a new look and better functionality for the in-built Apple Maps, though third-party applications such as Google’s own maps and Waze (also owned by Google) work with CarPlay. There’s also a day and night setting so the screen is not too bright when it’s dark outside.

A new app in iOS 13 is the calendar app, which links with Siri for appointments and can automatically bring up navigation to the meeting point. Or you might want to call the attendee to tell them you’re running late; Siri can do that. 

The new CarPlay system also supports various screen sizes so new vehicles with unique infotainment systems can better integrate CarPlay for a consistent look and feel.

How do I connect it up?

First up, you’ll need a compatible car, iPhone 5 or newer, and an iPhone cable (unless the system is wireless).

Nearly all compatible cars require a USB connection to enable CarPlay, and thus any car with CarPlay must have at least one USB port. Most Audi’s will allow connecting CarPlay through any of its USB ports, but the new Honda Civic Hatch, for instance, can only connect via the port under the centre console.

The software itself already exists in the phone’s operating system (iOS), and as the CarPlay screen is cast from the connected device, CarPlay updates happen when the device is updated. Siri must also be enabled, or it won’t connect.

Once an iPhone is connected and the car is stationary, the infotainment will prompt an agreement to allow CarPlay connectivity. CarPlay will usually ask if you agree to share bits of anonymous data with Apple. After that, the car should recognise the device whenever it is connected and display the CarPlay home screen.

If you are connecting to a BMW 5-series, for instance, the process is a little different. The BMW system will prompt the user through different steps, including the connection of Bluetooth, but once it is set up the car will wirelessly connect CarPlay without the need for a cable.

Using CarPlay

CarPlay is controlled via the car’s infotainment input controls and this can include the steering wheel buttons, capacitive touchscreen and voice control (via Siri) – all CarPlay apps are approved by Apple and need to support Siri.

The home screen layout is simple and displays the available apps. As CarPlay only operates within its own software, it can’t use any of the features found on the car’s infotainment. To do that requires exiting CarPlay.

For instance, using voice control to command navigation, such as ‘navigate to Alice Springs’, will prompt Siri to start route guidance using Apple Maps. It won’t use the manufacturer’s navigation and map data, so you’ll need a mobile data connection for navigation.

Message support allows for messages to be read out and messages composed using voice-to-text. This support extends to apps like WhatsUp. Call functions are much the same and perform similar to a Bluetooth connection.

The CarPlay screen is a quasi version of the iPhone home screen, so there’s no notifications or email support to get distracted by. Things like music and navigation sounds will also dim when the car’s safety features are triggered. Reversing cameras and other parking sensor displays will also take over the infotainment screen when operating.

What else does it do?

Because CarPlay uses Siri, the commands in-car are similar. Here are some useful ones when driving:

  • Call…
  • Send message…
  • Check for appointments in the calendar…
  • Find the closest petrol station…
  • What’s the weather like…
  • Play song, artist or genre…
  • Navigate to favourite restaurant…
  • Is favourite restaurant open now?

Do I need a mobile network connection?

You don’t need a mobile network connection to use CarPlay but most of the apps won’t run properly without one – except for listening to music stored on the device.

Can I still use my phone?

It depends on the car. Some cars will lock the phone so that it can’t be used while connected, whereas other cars will allow the phone to be used. But if you’re navigating with Apple Maps and someone leaves the app to search the internet, the navigation will stop working (not the case since iOS 13, as updated in the article above). 

Will my phone charge when connected to Apple CarPlay?

Yes, it will still charge.

What if I have an Android phone?

You can’t use Apple CarPlay, but you can use Android Auto if the car has it. We’ll have a guide to Android Auto online shortly.

Can I use Apple CarPlay on aftermarket stereos or install the software myself?

Yes, absolutely. There are many different head units available that even have complete wireless connection to Apple CarPlay and can connect to steering wheel buttons.

Some manufacturers have added CarPlay in a later software upgrade, but this isn’t common practice, and sometimes requires a piece of hardware to be installed.

What other cool apps are there?

CarPlay’s core functionality is integrating calls, messages, navigation and music. There’s not much to do outside of this. You can’t do things like watch videos or browse the internet.

Supported devices and cars:

Apple iPhone 5 and later models. Follow the link here to see a list, via Apple, of cars supporting CarPlay Apple CarPlay.

If you’d like to join in the discussion on Apple CarPlay (funny, informative or anything else), comment below or get involved on our Facebook page.


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Andrew Riles
Andrew Riles
3 years ago

When connected via USB to Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, does the phone charge, and are car manufacturers offering fast charge USB outlets now??

PracticalMotoring
PracticalMotoring
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Riles

Devices will charge when connected to both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
I don’t have specific detail about fast charging USB ports (high amp), but the new Audi A5/S5 USB Port 1 charged my iPhone 7 from low to around 70% rather quickly. I’ve found most new models have a reasonable-to-fast charging rate.- Alex

Doug
Doug
3 years ago

I keep music on an iPod and not my iPhone. Will CarPlay recognize an iPod? Thanks.

PracticalMotoring
3 years ago
Reply to  Doug

Sorry Doug, but Apple CarPlay only works with an iPhone. You should still be able to stream music from your iPod simply by connecting it to the car via the USB cable and then navigating to the vehicle’s audio menu and selecting your iPod as the ‘music source’. – Isaac

Alan Clarke
Alan Clarke
11 months ago

Never had it.

My car does as much as I need, I have a SatNav, the radio plays CDs (and USBs – but the CDs are far better). Last time I bought a car, the top pick didn’t have a CD Player – so I rejected it.

What else do I need?

Janice
Janice
10 months ago

Do you have to have a special cable to hook up to Apple Car Play on a 2018 Subaru?

Alex Rae

Alex Rae