What Is Apple CarPlay?

American Honda Motor Co., Inc.

Now that more vehicles are adopting Apple CarPlay, it is important to understand why it is available and exactly what it is. Apple CarPlay is now available in a growing list of over one hundred vehicle models. Most likely, when you purchase or lease a new vehicle, CarPlay may be present.

Due to the fact that it takes much longer to develop a car than a new piece of technology, Apple is offering CarPlay as a solution. Vehicle product cycles are much longer than smartphone product cycles, making it difficult for automakers to keep up with updates to apps, software, and maps.

CarPlay allows you to connect an iPhone to a vehicle’s infotainment interface, switching out the automaker’s system for one that mimics the iPhone. It is intended to be a safer way to maintain connectivity while driving. You gain control of certain aspects of your iPhone’s capabilities through the vehicle, primarily using touch and voice in congruence with the vehicle’s buttons and knobs. Most compatible vehicles have a voice control button located on the steering wheel.

MacFormat Magazine / Getty Images

To access Apple CarPlay, simply plug an iPhone into the car with a Lightning cable (the newer, smaller iPhone charging cable that looks similar to a mini USB), and almost immediately your car should project the device’s interface. Once plugged in your iPhone will lock to ensure that you’re not distracted by it while driving. Apple CarPlay is set up so that you won’t need access to your phone. Your vehicle’s on-board system will still control the dashboard, the temperature, and more.

Apple CarPlay is easy to use and intuitive for iPhone users. To use Apple CarPlay, simply follow these three steps:

  • Plug your compatible iPhone into the car’s USB port (cellular service is needed to power Apple CarPlay)
  • Make sure your car is running, or accessories are on
  • Ask Siri for what you need through the steering wheel voice control, or hold the iPhone’s home button until Siri appears on the vehicle’s screen
  • The system is only compatible with iPhone 5 devices and newer that are able to connect with Lightning cables. Older models with the 30-pin connector, while capable of being connected, do not have the power to run CarPlay. Also, the system will not function with an iPad and Bluetooth connectivity is not an option for CarPlay.

    American Honda Motor Co., Inc.

    Apple CarPlay uses the familiar Apple iOS interface that all iPhone lovers have come to know and understand. You can use it to take calls and send text messages. Messages are read out loud by Siri, and can be sent by dictating. CarPlay allows you to play your iTunes music and use Apple Maps for navigation. Everything is conveniently accessed via voice controls. You ask Siri for what you need or tell it where you’re going, and the system responds.

    Only apps that Apple has deemed safe to use while driving or has agreed to include in the interface are accessible. Some apps have been reconfigured to work more safely while driving. Select third-party apps will also work with Apple CarPlay and can be accessed via Siri. These include iHeartRadio, Pandora, Audible, Spotify, Stitcher, and Overcast, among others.

    The list of vehicles that support Apple CarPlay is growing. A majority of automakers support it, or intend to support it in upcoming models. Because of this, Apple has made a website that lists compatible vehicles and updates it regularly.

    Few people will purchase a new car just to have access to Apple CarPlay, so companies are making aftermarket systems available. Vehicle audio companies such as Sony, Pioneer, Kenwood, Alpine, and Clarion offer a myriad of options at prices ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.