• 10 Things You Need To Know About Apple CarPlay

iOS 13 brings major changes for Apple CarPlay and hopefully will prove a bug killer

Since Apple has just previewed the new iOS 13 interface that brings a plethora of changes that will affect Apple CarPlay as well, we though a go-to guide on CarPlay was due. Below you’ll find everything you need to know about Apple CarPlay as well as fresh information about what iOS 13 will bring in terms of improvements and what these changes entail for the CarPlay user out there.

What is Apple CarPlay?

Apple officially introduced CarPlay in March 2014 at the Geneva Motor Show, where Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo offered a demo of the feature in their cars. Essentially, CarPlay allows users to access some of their iPhone’s apps and content while driving, by emulating them on the car’s built-in infotainment screen.

Once synched and rendered on a car's display, Apple CarPlay lets you initiate calls, send/receive text messages, and listen to music.

CarPlay also reads and uses your iPhone contact list. In addition, it is Siri-compatible - so you can ask for whatever you want/need during driving without taking your eyes off the road or hands off the steering wheel - but it also works with your car’s knobs and buttons.

Does my car support Apple CarPlay?

10 Things You Need To Know About Apple CarPlay
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The number of makes and models that support Apple CarPlay has been increasing steadily ever since Apple introduced the feature.

To this date, more than 500 car models are compatible with Apple CarPlay, but the list is obviously too long to post it here. Some of the carmakers that offer it are Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Chevrolet, Cadillac, BMW, Hyundai, Volkswagen, Honda, Mazda, Toyota, Kia, GMC, Volvo, and Lincoln.

Their number, however, is bound to grow, since Apple CarPlay has become the standard offering in a lot of modern infotainment systems. So, it won’t be long before every car out there will support it. Here’s the full list of makes and models that are compatible with Apple CarPlay at the time of writing. Oh, and back in 2018, Honda launched the first motorcycle compatible with Apple CarPlay - the new Gold Wing - while Volvo introduced CarPlay on its VNL long-haul trucks.

Can I use Apple CarPlay on my older iPhone?

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Well, it depends on how old is your iPhone.

CarPlay is compatible with iPhone 5 or newer smartphones, including the likes of iPhone X (and derivatives) and iPhone SE. The image below provides the full list of iPhone devices that support CarPlay. However, you must keep in mind that some features, apps, and services are not available in all areas. Here’s a list of the countries and regions that get the full CarPlay treatment at the time of writing.

My car and my iPhone support Apple CarPlay. How do I use it?

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For starters, you’ll have to set it up. For that, you need to follow three steps:

a. Start your car and make sure Siri is turned on (Settings > Siri & Search > press the side button (iPhone X or later) or the Home button for older iPhones).

b. Connect the iPhone to one of your car’s USB ports using the Lightning cable. If your car supports wireless CarPlay, then press and hold the voice command button - it should be positioned on the steering wheel.

c. Make sure that your infotainment system is in wireless or Bluetooth mode, then on your iPhone go to Settings > General > CarPlay, tap Available Cars and then select your car.

Sometimes CarPlay won’t open automatically. In that case, look for the CarPlay icon on your car’s infotainment display and tap it. This would prompt a message asking you to unlock your phone - all you have to do now is approve it, and normally, your car’s screen should display a list of apps such as Phone, Music, Maps, Messages, and a digital replica of the home button.

Apple CarPlay features

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CarPlay uses the same Maps engine as the iPhone app but displayed on your car’s infotainment screen. Along with crisp graphics, you get turn-by-turn directions that navigate you to your destination, traffic conditions on the selected route, an estimated time of arrival, distance until destination, and alternate routes that avoid bottlenecks and areas choked by heavy traffic.

The Maps app offers a feature that lets you know where you parked the car, and you can even set up a voice message that activates Waze. Furthermore, you can even take a screenshot of the Apple CarPlay screen - all you need to do is take a regular screenshot while CarPlay is synched. This will, in fact, take two screen captures - one of the phone and one of the CarPlay screen.

Moreover, CarPlay remembers the song you were playing when you got off the car, and once you've restarted your journey (or started a new one), it will resume playing from where you left off.

You can also ask Siri to play a particular song or other songs similar to it.

Last but not least, besides listening to voicemails and making phone calls using voice recognition, CarPlay lets you dictate messages. Once you’ve finished talking, it will display a confirmation prompt that lets you make sure the audio-to-text conversion was done correctly. Incoming messages are basically read by Siri, and you can hear them through the car’s speaker system.

Other Apple CarPlay Apps

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Besides the standard set of iOS-provided apps mentioned earlier, Apple CarPlay is also compatible with other third-party apps. You can select which ones appear on your car’s screen when Apple CarPlay is on via your iPhone’s settings menu.

Some of the apps that work with Apple CarPlay can be split into four main categories: music, audiobooks, podcasts, and navigation.

That being said, some of the apps you can Spotify, Audible, iHeart Radio, Pandora, and Tidal. You can also choose a different navigation app than Apple’s Maps, including Google Maps and Waze, just to name the most popular ones. The only exception that does not fit the four said categories is WhatsApp.

Can I use Siri with Apple CarPlay?

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The answer is yes. To activate Siri, you can either press and hold the voice command button on your car’s steering wheel or touch and hold the Home button on the CarPlay home screen.

You can ask Siri for directions to the nearest coffee shop or mall, for example, or call someone from your contact list, or play music. Furthermore, Siri can also check your calendar and tell you when’s your next meeting and can send text messages. You’ll have to tell Siri exactly what the message is because there are no keyboards in Apple CarPlay, which would defeat its whole drive safely purpose in the first place.

Siri can also create new notes and set alarms, although the respective apps are not included in the CarPlay suite, which is very cool.

Another nice thing Siri can pull off is check the weather forecast using the Dark Sky app. Again, the app won’t be mirrored into your car by CarPlay, but it can be used to get weather data nonetheless. Moreover, you can even adjust Siri’s speech volume - but make sure to do so while it’s still talking.

Can I get Apple CarPlay through an aftermarket system?

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Here’s the good news: yes, you can. Many brands have been developing aftermarket systems that can add CarPlay to your car, including the likes of Alpine, Clarion, JVC, Kenwood, Pioneer, and Sony.

You can find some of them on Amazon:

How about Wireless CarPlay?

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Well, that’s a tricky one. According to CarPlay Life, only a handful of cars get Wireless CarPlay for the time being, with BMW being the first car manufacturer to open the ball. We’ve listed these cars below:

What will iOS 13 change for Apple CarPlay?

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OK, this is the long one. Hopefully, iOS 13 will address the annoying glitches, freezes, and unresponsiveness. However, this might be related to CarPlay or might not, as the mentioned issues could stem from the carmaker-offered infotainment architecture. Nevertheless, iOS 13 does promise up to 2x faster app launch processes as well as smaller app downloads and updates. So, fingers crossed.

Now, Apple’s decision to introduce iOS 13 will also change the way CarPlay looks and works. In the company’s own words:

“CarPlay gets its biggest update ever with a new Dashboard to view music, maps and more in a single view, a new Calendar app and Siri support for third-party navigation and audio apps.”

The move’s timing is unlikely a coincidence as it was only last month that Google announced a revamp of its Android Auto, including a new face that debuts a dark skin.

That aside, Apple also announced that part of the iOS 13’s arrival, tweaks will be performed on some of the system’s native apps. We’ve highlighted some of them here, but it’s time to go deeper into the matter.

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Obviously, the revamp Apple has in store for its Maps is a big deal. Mostly because this app is mirrored by CarPlay and widely-used for navigation purposes but also because it heralds the introduction of a few new features. So, map graphics have been improved to include more realistic details such as roads, beaches, parks, and building.

Junction View is also a new addition - this will allow users to avoid wrong turns by offering directions on how a car should be lined up before turning or entering an elevated road. Which is kind of neat. Also, you’ll be able to create a list of favorite places - think of basically shortcuts to locations such as gym, home, work, kid’s school - for quick one-tap navigation.

Joining them is Flight Status - a new gimmick which brings real-time info about flight terminals, gates openings, and departure times - but also tweaks that touch on Siri’s way of offering guidance, including the ability to tune into your favorite radio station.Apple explains:

"More natural language enhances the navigation experience. So instead of saying in 1,000 feet turn left, Siri says turn left at the next traffic light."

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Moreover, you’ll also be able to share your ETA with family or coworkers, with Apple mentioning that the estimated time of arrival updates itself accordingly, in case delays intervene along the way. That’s not all, though.

Visually, CarPlay will offer a new view screen that brings maps, audio control, and Siri to one single place. The Calendar app has been redesigned, as well as Apple Music and the CarPlay Home screen - which now features rounded corners, new table views, and a tweaked status bar. Oh, and Siri now covers a smaller area of the screen, which should, in theory, allow you to focus easily on more important bits of info.

On the backend front, Apple now lets carmakers work more freely when developing CarPlay systems. For example, new systems can be fitted with an adjustable screen size tool, or they can be displayed on non-rectangular screens. Even more, and this is a real life saver here, an open app on the iPhone won’t open it in the Apple CarPlay screen - this is particularly useful if the passenger wants to change the song in Music while you’re using Maps guidance.

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Last but not least, CarPlay is getting the iPhone’s Do Not Disturb While Driving feature that cuts of notifications when it detects the user is behind the wheel, and Apple says it will know how to make the difference between the user actually driving and travelling by public transportation.

All that’s left to do now is sit and wait for Apple to deploy the iOS 13, which will happen this fall and have a go at the revamped Apple CarPlay. With a bit of luck, Apple took notice of the user complaints regarding glitches and whatnot, and we’ll be in for a way smoother user experience.

Further Reading

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Read our full speculative review on the 2021 Apple iCar.

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Tudor Rus
Tudor Rus
Assistant Content Manager - Automotive Expert - tudor@topspeed.com
Tudor’s first encounter with cars took place when he was only a child. Back then, his father brought home a Trabant 601 Kombi and a few years later, a Wartburg 353. At that time, he was too young to know how they worked and way too young to drive them, but he could see one thing – each of them had a different ethos and their own unique personality. As time went on, he started seeing that in other cars as well, and his love for the automobile was born.  Read full bio
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