Smartphones have allowed us to connect with the rest of the world from anywhere, but there are some places where it's not the smartest thing to do. Like when you're driving a car - you don't want to constantly pick up your phone and take your attention away from the road.
It doesn't help that for a long time, and in many cases still, infotainment systems have been slow and not amazingly cooperative with our smartphones. Sure, you can stream your music and take some calls, but what about navigation? Apple's CarPlay (and Google's Android Auto) are two major stabs at making our cars more connected.
But how exactly does CarPlay do that, and how do you use it? Buckle in, buddy, as we've laid it all out for you.
What is CarPlay?
CarPlay is Apple's automobile infotainment system. Or put simply, it's a way for you to keep using your phone in a safe manner while driving, by taking all that information on your device and presenting it easily and usably on your car's in-dash system.
Your iPhone's contacts, messages, phone calls, music and some apps are available for use right on your car dash. You can access this stuff in one of three ways: Voice commands via Siri, the dash's touchscreen, and with whatever nobs and buttons your car uses to control its infotainment system.
Siri commands are usually activated by a button on the steering wheel, which will allow you to dictate and listen to messages, take phone calls, request songs and ask for directions somewhere. The touchscreen will allow you to navigate the interface via a familiar grid of apps. As for the knobs and buttons, those depend on your car.
While most of CarPlay is about Apple's own apps, like Messages, Maps, Podcasts, Apple Books audiobooks, and Apple Music, there are a number of third-party apps that are available. WhatsApp is the alternative messaging app, for instance.
As for music, you've also got Spotify, Google Play Music, Amazon Music, iHeart Radio, Tidal, SiriusXM, Pandora, Radio Disney, and Slack. If you're into podcasts, there's Overcast, plus CBS News. Other options include Audible and MLB At Bat (for getting your baseball on).
Google Maps and Waze are both now supported on CarPlay, meaning you don't have to solely rely on Apple Maps. Also, thanks to Siri Shortcuts, you can sync together CarPlay features - like podcast and navigation - to work nicely with home commands. The example Apple likes to use is setting up a shortcut where you tell Siri you're heading back home and it sets your thermostat, lays out your route and turns on your favorite music. With CarPlay, you'll be able to activate those right from your car as you finish up your day.
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Speaking of Siri, the CarPlay update coming in iOS 13 this fall will make the assistant capable of handling third-party music services (like Pandora and Waze) and navigation apps. In fact, "Hey Siri" support will soon take advantage of a car's built-in microphone.
iOS 13 will also bring a new dashboard design, which will be able to show more than one app at a time (Maps and Music, for example). The Calendar app will also be more useful, says Apple, while opening an app on the connected iPhone will no longer switch what's happening on the dashboard. So if you've got Google Maps open and use your phone to open the Spotify app to change playlists, you won't lose sight of the directions.
Yeah, but how does it work?
CarPlay is a two-pronged system. It uses your phone to connect to a car's dashboard system, which has software support for CarPlay embedded in it. There are two ways that CarPlay interfaces with your iPhone.
The first way is through a wire. You simple connect a Lightning cable to your iPhone and set it down, your car's dash will pop up in CarPlay while getting a charge at the same time. The other way is via Bluetooth. Your car will need to support wireless CarPlay for this to work though, so it's a little rarer than wired CarPlay.
How do you get CarPlay?
There are two ways to get CarPlay, and both of them first require you to have an iPhone. Luckily, there's a pretty wide range of supported iPhones. If you have an iPhone 5 or later, you're good to go. If you have a compatible iPhone, the two ways to get CarPlay are either by buying a new car that supports CarPlay, or buying an aftermarket system to turn your current car into one that's CarPlay compatible.
If you do go the aftermarket route, you'll have a variety of options. Alpine, Clarion, JVC, Kenwood, Sony and Pioneer all offer car dashboards that support CarPlay. These will cost you around $300-$400 to get a new system for your car.
There is an exception to the aftermarket route though. If your car is a couple of years old and already has a newfangled connected system from your car manufacturer, you may not need to go out and buy an entirely new system. Instead, you may just need to upgrade your current system and add CarPlay functionality. Unfortunately, car manufacturers sometimes treat CarPlay (and Android Auto) as premium features rather than standard ones.
How to set up CarPlay
So you have your hands on a compatible iPhone, you bought a compatible car or aftermarket stereo and you're ready to go. How do you set up this dang thing?
For wired CarPlay:
1. Plug your iPhone into the USB port marked with either a smartphone or CarPlay icon.
2. Turn on your car.
3. CarPlay should pop up. If it doesn't, press the CarPlay icon on the car's dashboard.
4. Call Siri via either the voice control button on the steering wheel or holding the home button in the CarPlay dashboard for a couple seconds.
For wireless CarPlay:
1. Turn on your car.
2. Hold down the voice control button.
3. On your iPhone, go to Settings.
4. Click General.
5. Select CarPlay.
6. In Available Cars, choose your model.
7. Select your car.
8. Call Siri via either the voice control button on the steering wheel or holding the home button in the CarPlay dashboard for a couple seconds.
What cars support CarPlay?
Alright, so you need to buy a new car and one of your dealbreakers is CarPlay. Which cars support CarPlay? Luckily, there are over 400 car models that support Apple's infotainment system and that list is continually growing.
No matter which car manufacturer you choose, you should have at least one option. Apple keeps a full list on its website, and it continually updates it as more cars are announced. The majority of CarPlay-supported cars are 2017 and 2018 models, though as 2019 models are announced it's likely that virtually all new cars will support CarPlay.
Hence, here's a list of car brands you can expect to support CarPlay:
- Alfa Romeo
- Aston Martin
- Cowin Auto
- Dongfeng Honda
- D5 Automobiles