What is Apple CarPlay? How it works, how to get it and compatible cars
What is the Apple CarPlay app? How does it work? Can CarPlay be wireless? We answer these questions and more
Since its release, Apple CarPlay has seen multiple changes and quality-of-life improvements, most recently with an over-the-air update in 2023. It brought with it even more in-car integration beyond just the car’s infotainment screen and allowing drivers with a compatible model to control more of the car’s functions, such as the climate control, through the Apple interface.
Apple CarPlay is compatible with most iPhone models; as long as you have an iPhone 5 or newer (including the iPhone SE), it’ll sync with a car equipped with the technology. It displays a simplified version of certain apps from your phone via the infotainment touchscreen in your dash – allowing you to operate them as you would using your phone screen. Using these apps on your car’s screen is safer than fiddling with your phone on the move and keeps you on the right side of the law.
You won’t find Apple CarPlay on every new car on sale but it’s becoming more and more common. You can also buy replacement radio units that are CarPlay-compatible for older cars.
What is Apple CarPlay?
Apple CarPlay replicates your iPhone’s screen on the car’s infotainment screen and allows you access to navigation apps such as Waze or Google Maps, and music services including Spotify and Apple Music. CarPlay also gives you the option to listen to iMessage and WhatsApp messages – all operated by the touchscreen. Apple’s voice-activated assistant, Siri, can also compose text messages for you if you ask it to.
Apple CarPlay is becoming commonplace on both affordable and high-spec cars – you can access it whether you have a Dacia Sandero or a Ferrari Portofino. In most cases, you can use Apple CarPlay instead of the car’s primary in-built infotainment system; many people prefer to use it because of their familiarity with Apple’s iOS operating system. Apple’s slick interface is often easier to use than some manufacturers’ systems.
Some of the key elements of Apple CarPlay include the ability to use it as an actual telephone, in addition to accessing your music and navigational tools. Understandably, not all apps are compatible, so you won’t be able to play games on the move (nor should you – it’d be very dangerous), but Apple’s app templates are encouraging more developers to create their own Apple CarPlay compatible apps.
What is included in the latest Apple CarPlay iOS 17 update?
One major benefit to Apple CarPlay over some manufacturers’ own infotainment systems is that it can be regularly overhauled to add new, innovative features. Often this is simply done as an over-the-air update.
In the latest iOS 17 update, Apple has enabled the SharePlay option for its Apple Music app. This allows every passenger on board the vehicle to add music to the app’s queue without having to connect their phones to the app themselves.
Apple has also made changes to how you communicate with EV charging stations, for users who drive electric cars. Apple’s default navigation app, Apple Maps, can now provide real-time availability of chargers and charging networks that are suitable for your vehicle, making it easier to see which charging stations along your route would be suitable for a charging stop.
Another quality-of-life update is to the messaging system, which is centred around a reworked interface. This means drivers can read and respond to messages easier than before, allowing them to stay focused on the road.
These are considered to be relatively minor updates, however, compared to previous years’ iOS updates. Said updates include the ability to unlock and start some car models with your iPhone. It’s also possible to lend other iPhone users a virtual key, making it easier for you to lend your car to friends and family even if you’re not around to pass them the key fob.
To stop you from getting locked out of the car, the technology can also detect if you’ve left your phone inside, preventing you from locking it. Not all cars are compatible with this feature, but many recent cars are, with BMW being one of the first manufacturers to integrate the functionality.
iOS 15 also brought ‘Focus Mode’ which makes sure only the most important notifications are displayed on your car’s infotainment screen and stops unwanted distractions. ‘Drive Focus’ can be set to activate when you connect your iPhone to the car’s infotainment system automatically, or it can be toggled manually.
Apple Maps was also updated to show maps in 3D which helps to give a little more context when following a route. Details such as turning lanes, bike lanes and pedestrian crossings can be set to display in major cities such as London, but the mammoth task of implementing this feature means it’s yet to be fully extended to smaller cities.
Another recent addition is the ability to have Apple’s voice assistant Siri read your text messages aloud automatically as soon as you receive them. This feature is known as ‘Siri Announce Messages’ and can be toggled on in settings.
The previous iOS 14 update included a couple of useful features. Third-party parking, EV charging and food delivery apps became supported, making it easier to find available car parks or electric car charge points.
For cars with a portrait touchscreen, such as the Volvo XC40 and the top-spec Renault Clio, the menu bar could be moved to the bottom of the screen for a more natural layout. It also became possible to ask Siri to send an estimated time of arrival to one of your contacts. It also brought a new wallpaper option to personalise your screen and the introduction of Chinese and Japanese keyboards.
How does Apple CarPlay work?
Start by connecting your iPhone to your car using its USB charging cable, or via Bluetooth if your car has wireless CarPlay functionality. Regardless of which connection option you pick, connecting to CarPlay will make your car’s infotainment screen look like a zoomed-in version of your iPhone screen. It’s important to note that you need version 7.1 or later of Apple’s iOS operating system on your phone for a connection to be recognised.
You can use CarPlay in a few different ways. Firstly, you can make use of the Siri voice control function to select your music or read your messages out to you. You can then dictate your reply without taking your hands off the wheel.
If your car has a touchscreen, you can use that to control your phone’s functions as well as the vehicle’s built-in infotainment system, but with the familiarity of the iOS operating system and Apple’s large icons on the screen. Furthermore, you can also use steering wheel or dashboard-mounted controls (if your car has them) to select particular programmes and features as you would ordinarily.
Can you use Apple CarPlay wirelessly?
A wide array of new cars are now available with wireless CarPlay, including all versions of the new Volkswagen Golf. BMW now offers wireless CarPlay connectivity in a number of its models, including the 1 Series, 3 Series and new 5 Series – although this may only be provided as an optional extra in some cases.
Other manufacturers that also offer wireless CarPlay include Audi, with the tech being added to the A6, A4 and new A3 hatchback models among others. MINI and Mercedes also rolled out the functionality to new and facelifted models in their respective ranges, while Ford, Honda and Hyundai are some of the other notable manufacturers that provide Apple CarPlay connectivity.
Wireless CarPlay adapters are available for cars where you’d have to plug your phone in. These range in price, with many coming in at under £50. You plug the adapter into your car’s USB slot, rather than the phone cable.
Which cars have Apple CarPlay?
Many new cars are now Apple CarPlay compatible as standard, so we can’t list all of them individually here. We still recommend that you check that the model you’re interested in has it; there are still a few cars that aren’t available with it at all and for some, it depends on the exact trim level. Be aware that some cars, even expensive ones from upmarket brands, have Apple CarPlay as an option, and the amount manufacturers charge for it varies wildly.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that some of the Apple CarPlay functionality depends on the hardware your car comes with – if it doesn’t have the tech to unlock with an iPhone, for example, even a software update won’t change this.
Frequently asked questions about Apple CarPlay
Is there a monthly fee for Apple CarPlay?
Currently, there are no extra costs for using Apple CarPlay. Aside from what you pay for installation as a bolt-on to your vehicle – assuming that you need to, and it isn’t already included.
Does Apple CarPlay work over Bluetooth?
Yes. By accessing your car’s built-in Bluetooth system, and ensuring that your iPhone’s Bluetooth is switched on, you can pair them together with ease.
How is Apple CarPlay different to Android Auto?
Android Auto is the Android smartphone equivalent of Apple’s iPhone CarPlay. The key difference is how the main layout looks, which will be closely related to how it would on that system’s corresponding smartphone. The other notable difference is the voice command system, which for Apple is called ‘Siri’, and ‘Google Assistant’ for Android users.
What is the difference between Apple CarPlay and a car’s built-in navigation?
A car’s built-in navigation system will make use of its own GPS system to provide routes, and is often accompanied by a manufacturer’s own voice command technology. While it is possible to connect your smartphone to a car’s navigation system, it won’t be a mimic of that smartphone’s layout – which also means you won’t be able to access its apps in quite the same way. While this may mean the car’s built-in sat-nav doesn’t have as many features like live traffic, it can also prove more reliable in areas of poor mobile service, since it doesn’t rely on a data connection to work.
Can you use Google Maps and Waze with Apple CarPlay?
The ability to substitute a vehicle’s own navigation system for the Google Maps and Waze smartphone apps is one of the key benefits of adopting Apple CarPlay. These apps are often easier to use and feature rich than a traditional navigation system, and thus, contribute to Apple CarPlay’s popularity.
What are the best maps for Apple CarPlay?
Aside from the aforementioned Google Maps and Waze, there are several alternatives that can be used which are still considered to be useful. Those include TomTom GO, Roadtrippers – Trip Planner, and Sygic. Before downloading these apps, it’s best to check that they are available in your country.
Does Apple CarPlay drain your phone’s battery?
In much the same way that your phone battery will drain if it’s constantly left on while driving, Apple CarPlay will also reduce your phone’s battery life a noticeable amount. By combining a navigation app with a music app, and any others you may have active while driving, your phone is taking on a much higher workload than if it were inactive. If you plan to rely on Apple CarPlay for a long trip, it’s best to keep your smartphone plugged in.
Advantages of Apple CarPlay
Apple CarPlay isn’t short on benefits, and many have already been discussed in this guide. As a short overview, here are some of our biggest advantages:
- Apple CarPlay is easy to use once you’ve familiarised yourself with it
- Apple CarPlay has no additional costs if it’s fitted as standard, but it’s an optional extra in some models
- Apple CarPlay can be tailored to your specific needs
- Apple CarPlay is becoming more widely available in new models
- Apple CarPlay combines most of your driving-related applications in one easy-to-use interface
Disadvantages of Apple CarPlay
Though there are many advantages to Apple CarPlay, there are a few disadvantages that drivers should be aware of:
- Apple CarPlay is not yet available on all cars
- Apple CarPlay could be an expensive optional extra
- Apple CarPlay has not yet been offered in every country
- Apple CarPlay may still be missing accessibility to certain apps that you, specifically, may find integral on a day-to-day basis
- Apple CarPlay could be a big distraction to some drivers
Should I get Apple CarPlay?
The key details point strongly in favour of Apple CarPlay, and with time, we’ll likely see it implemented as either a standard feature or an optional extra to most new cars. Once the screen comes up, you’re able to use the various apps just like you would on your iPhone, but as the display is bigger and clearer, it’s much safer than fumbling about with your phone while on the move.
In many cases, you can also use the car’s touchscreen or steering wheel-mounted controls to work everything you need to, allowing you to use your phone just as you would normally. As a result, we’d recommend getting and using CarPlay if you think it would improve your driving experience.
Engine management light: top 5 causes of amber engine warning light
How to renew your driving licence or change the address
How to spot a slow puncture and what to do if you have one
Top 10 most reliable cars 2023
Tesla Cybertruck finally delivered: specs, prices and UK availability
Best new car deals 2023: this week’s top car offers
New 2024 Dacia Duster arrives – popular budget SUV enters its third generation