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Apple Carplay: What It is and How It Works

James Benchman
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by James Benchman

If you’re a loyal iPhone user, chances are, you’ve heard about Apple CarPlay. Since its launch in 2014, CarPlay has provided an innovative marriage of the latest in Apple smartphone technology with a safe interface that you can legally use when you’re behind the wheel.

Perhaps you’ve heard the hype about Apple CarPlay for a while but aren’t sure if it’s right for you. Or, maybe you’re just now hearing of it.

Keep reading for everything you should know about CarPlay, including what it is, how it works, compatible iPhone versions supported vehicles, and so much more.

What Exactly Is Apple CarPlay?

Apple CarPlay takes your iPhone’s interface and overlays it onto your vehicle dashboard’s infotainment screen. When you plug in your iPhone, your iOS home screen replaces your vehicle’s infotainment system. As a result, you enjoy complete access at all your app icons plus a virtual home button.

You can utilize CarPlay with any controls your vehicle is already equipped with, from voice to knobs to buttons. For safety reasons, CarPlay doesn’t feature all the apps on your smartphone, and individual app components feature dictation and voice elements instead of touchscreen technology.

For instance, if you receive a WhatsApp message or iMessage, Siri will read your text out loud to you rather than displaying it on the screen.

The vast majority of car models require you to connect your smartphone to the USB port via a lightning cable. However, some new models such as the most recent BMW 5-series are compatible with wireless CarPlay which operates through the vehicle’s Bluetooth connection.

While this choice is more convenient on the go, it’s essential to ensure you connect your iPhone to a wireless charger if you opt for wireless CarPlay. Otherwise, your battery could lose its juice fast, especially if you’re using an app like Maps or streaming music.

Multiple third-party apps are compatible (and have been optimized to use with) with CarPlay, including:

  • Spotify
  • iHeartRadio
  • CBS Radio
  • Pandora
  • WhatsApp
  • Waze
  • Amazon Music
  • NPR One
  • Tidal

You can also access Google Maps and Google Play Music with CarPlay. It’s important to note that your car’s settings don’t integrate with CarPlay. You’ll have to close out the application to do things like switch radio stations, adjust the temperature controls, or activate another driving mode.

Compatible iPhones

If you want to install CarPlay on your vehicle’s dashboard, you’ll need first to confirm that your iPhone is consistent with the system. All iPhone versions since the iPhone 5 are compatible with CarPlay. However, your mobile device must operate on iOS 7.1 or a newer version for the app to function.

Also, you won’t be able to run it if you still use an iPhone that features a 30-pin connector or if you’re using an iPad. Apart from cars that are compatible with wireless Apple CarPlay, you’ll have to physically connect the iPhone to your vehicle with certified lightning to USB cable.

Compatible Vehicles

There are a considerable variety of vehicles from a wide range of manufacturers that are currently compatible with CarPlay. These include more basic cars like the Chevy Spark up to premier supercars like the Lamborghini Huracan Evo.

Dozens of well-known vehicle brands are compatible with it, including Chevrolet, Porsche, Honda, Volvo, Ford, and BMW. However, some brands require customers to pay extra for using Apple CarPlay tech, while others integrate compatibility as standard equipment.

Manufacturers like Toyota were highly resistant to CarPlay for many years due to natural concerns regarding safety and privacy. However, Toyota has since altered its stance and began to offer it on several recent models including the 2019 Corolla Hatch, 2019 Avalon, and the 2019 Rav4.

Are There Any Aftermarket Options?

If your vehicle isn’t compatible with Apple CarPlay and you’re not in a position to purchase a new one, you could still enjoy the benefits of the system.

How? By installing one of the best apple carplay stereos.

Top manufacturers such as Kenwood, Sony, JVC, Pioneer, Clarion, and Alpine all offer stereo systems that are compatible with Apple CarPlay. Stereos typically come in two different sizes:  single DINs and double DINs. With a single DIN unit, the system is around two inches tall. A double-DIN system is usually four inches tall.

Modern vehicles featuring curved dashboards typically don’t cater to aftermarket stereo systems without dashboard modification, which isn’t recommended in most cases.

How to Use Apple CarPlay

Using CarPlay is easy and efficient as you can control it via whatever interface your vehicle is equipped with. You’ll generally have three options to control it — Siri, the touchscreen, and your vehicle knobs.

With Siri, you can talk to your car and tell it what you what it to do. From playing music to asking Siri to pull up your favorite playlist, you’ll be able to keep your eyes on the road with your essential apps in easy reach. CarPlay can also read your messages out loud before you dictate your response.

Certain CarPlay vehicles sport touchscreen displays integrated into the car dashboard, which means that you can open and close applications with a basic home screen. While this method is one of the easiest ways to control CarPlay, it could prove to be more of a distraction when you’re behind the wheel.

Finally, some cars allow you to use your vehicle’s controls, knobs, and other physical buttons to adjust CarPlay. Sometimes, you can use these components with the Siri and touchscreen elements as well.

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The Bottom Line

If you’re hunting for a new vehicle, you likely won’t have any issues finding one equipped to operate seamlessly with Apple CarPlay. The good news is, if a brand new vehicle isn’t in the cards for you, the number of used cars that are compatible with it is increasing with each year.

From integrated vehicle technology to CarPlay-compatible aftermarket options, it is an efficient, seamless way to stay connected — and safe — whenever you hit rubber to the road.

About James Benchman
James Benchman
James is an Automotive Mechanic with over 20 years experience and 300+ car repairs. He is an expert with cars and has worked with different models from the biggest brands. James is a Mechanic , Husband , Father of 3 , and head of content at Caraudiologic. Learn more about us
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