CarPlay is Apple's iOS solution for the car.
At a Glance
- CarPlay brings iOS to the car. Widely available in many 2015, 2016, and 2017 car models along with aftermarket systems.
- Siri voice control
- Apple Music
- Plug-and-play setup
- iOS-style interface
- Access to select Apple and third-party iOS apps
CarPlay, at its core, is Apple's way of bringing iOS to in-car infotainment systems and dashboards. It's designed to display information from the iPhone on a car's built-in display, giving drivers a safe way to make phone calls, send text messages, listen to music, and access Maps -- all of the things a driver might want to do with an iPhone in a car.
When connected to an in-dash system via the iPhone's Lightning port, CarPlay gives the user in-car access to information stored on the iPhone, like contacts for phone calls and messages, music playlists in apps, previous Maps searches, calendar events, and more. Because CarPlay draws its information from the iPhone, there's virtually no setup involved.
Many automobile manufacturers are building CarPlay support into cars that are set to be released in late 2015 and 2016, but there's also a way to get CarPlay in existing vehicles -- some aftermarket in-dash systems from companies like Pioneer, Kenwood, and Alpine are compatible with CarPlay and are readily available.
CarPlay is designed to be hands-free, introducing as little driver distraction as possible, and for that reason, it is voice-based and heavily reliant on Siri. Siri, for example, is used to perform a range of actions in the car, such as placing phone calls, getting directions, sending text messages, and more.
There are also physical controls in the form of buttons and knobs, but these controls vary from vehicle to vehicle. Systems with touch screens are able to accommodate touch-based input as well, and special adapters can enhance in-car integration of aftermarket CarPlay solutions.
iOS already offers a consistent Apple experience across tablets and smartphones, but with CarPlay, that's also extended to the car in an easy-to-use format that people are already familiar with.
Because CarPlay is a rather ambitious effort that requires the cooperation of automobile makers and third-party hardware companies, it has been slow to get off the ground, but we should see a whole range of new CarPlay-enabled vehicles over the next few years.
The CarPlay interface is designed to be immediately familiar to anyone who has used iOS on an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. Connecting an iPhone to CarPlay through a Lightning cable brings up an iOS-style interface on the in-car display that offers a home screen complete with apps like Maps, Phone, Messages, Music, Podcasts, and several third-party offerings.
Apps are accessed via touch screen, through Siri, or through various in-car controls that might be located on the steering wheel or other location depending on the car manufacturer. On aftermarket offerings from companies like Pioneer and Alpine, physical controls are limited to buttons on the in-dash system unless special adapters are installed.
Though apps can be launched through touch-based controls, actions like sending a text message, making a phone call, or changing a music track are largely conducted through Siri. There is no on-screen keyboard, for example, so text messages are transcribed by voice much as they are when using dictation to send messages on an iPhone. More information on the included CarPlay apps and what they do can be found below.
Apple CarPlay Apps
Maps: Powered by the iPhone Maps app, Maps within CarPlay lets users get detailed turn-by-turn directions to help them navigate. The CarPlay interface clearly displays the route, driving instructions, traffic conditions, and visual cues for upcoming turns. Estimated time of arrival is also included, along with an estimate of driving time and distance until the destination is reached.
Maps draws in location information from apps like Messages, Calendar, and Mail, and it also includes previous searches made on iOS. For example, if a user has a specific location for an upcoming meeting stored in the Calendar app, Maps will pull that info into the CarPlay interface. Maps also allows for voice commands through Siri, so it's possible to ask Siri to find a gas station, a museum, or a specific address.
Phone: With the Phone app, it's possible to ask Siri to dial calls, return missed calls, and listen to voice mail. The CarPlay Phone app also has a keypad so numbers can be punched in on the touchscreen, but for the most part, calls will be initiated by asking Siri to dial an existing contact. In iOS 10, Maps gained traffic alerts and alternate routes to save time in traffic-heavy areas.
A user might say, "Call mom," for example, to place a phone call over the car's speaker system. In-car controls will also likely be used alongside the touchscreen for functions like muting calls or initiating conference calls.
Messages: As with phone calls, sending a message is reliant on Siri. Messages are dictated aloud to the voice assistant, with Siri confirming the content of the message to ensure accuracy before sending. When a response is received, Siri will ask if the user wants it read aloud and will then give the option to send another text message, with the entire interaction being voice-based to prevent users from looking at their iPhones while driving.
Sample commands within the Messages app include "Read message from Kelly," or "Send message to mom," followed by the message content.
Audiobooks: New in iOS 8.4, the Audiobooks app is part of the iBooks app and lets users listen to audiobooks in their vehicles.
Apple Music: The CarPlay Music app allows customers to access content that has been downloaded from iTunes, the Apple Music streaming service, and the free Beats 1 radio station. Like other CarPlay apps, the Music app's interface is immediately recognizable, with access to Artists, Songs, and Playlists. With Siri, it's possible for Apple Music subscribers to play a specific songs or artists on-demand with commands like "Siri, play Beyonce." Apple Music received a redesign as part of iOS 10 to make it easier to browse and discover new music.
Podcasts: With the Podcasts app, CarPlay users can listen to their downloaded podcasts. The CarPlay interface is similar to the interface on iOS devices and should be immediately familiar to those who frequently use the Podcasts app.
Other Apple apps: Along with the aforementioned main apps, CarPlay owners can also access the Podcasts and Beats Music apps via their in-dash systems. Both interfaces are similar to what is found on the iPhone, giving access to downloaded podcasts and Beats Music playlists.
Third-Party CarPlay Apps
Apple has allowed several third-party developers to create dedicated apps for CarPlay. Available apps are audio-focused and non-visual, in order to avoid introducing distractions into the car, with the content being played through the car's speakers.
Third-party apps will only show up on the CarPlay display if the app is installed on the iPhone. So, for example, if a user regularly listens to Spotify on the iPhone and has the Spotify app installed, Spotify will also be available via the CarPlay interface.
Because of the audio-focused restriction, there are a limited number of apps that are compatible with CarPlay at the current time. It's likely additional apps will be developed as CarPlay becomes more widely adopted, but Apple will undoubtedly maintain strict control over the types of apps it allows to ensure the safety of the system.
Apple's CarPlay site has a long list of partners that have pledged to add CarPlay support into upcoming vehicles, including Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Audi, BMW, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Citroen, Dodge, Ferrari, Fiat, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Jeep, Kia, Land Rover, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Opel, Porsche, Peugeot, Renault, Subaru, Suzuki, Volkswagen, and Volvo.
As of late 2015, CarPlay availability is improving, with manufacturers like Cadillac, Chevrolet, Ford, GMC, Honda, Kia, Lincoln, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Volvo, Nissan, BMW, Hyundai, Porsche, and Volkswagen offering CarPlay-equipped vehicles that are available now or coming in the near future.
Apple has created an official master list of all the CarPlay vehicles available in the United States and other countries. For those in search of a CarPlay-equipped vehicle, Apple's list is the best way to determine the options that are available. It is updated on a regular basis, but may not include new CarPlay vehicles as soon as they are announced.
Apple's list includes more than 100 new 2016 and 2017 models from more than 20 vehicle manufacturers.
Apple lists several other CarPlay partners on its website, but some remain committed to their own infotainment systems in current U.S. vehicles or have not yet rolled out CarPlay-equipped cars.
Acura has not announced CarPlay support, but its parent company Honda has launched CarPlay in the 2016 Accord and 2016 Civic. Given that Acura is Honda's luxury brand, its vehicles should eventually support CarPlay.
Jaguar, Land Rover, Mazda and Subaru have not announced CarPlay support for their 2016 vehicle lineups.
Toyota appears to have put its CarPlay commitment on hold. The world's largest automaker instead reached a partnership with Ford and in January 2016 to use its open source SmartDeviceLink technology for its in-dash systems.
Alpine, Kenwood, Pioneer, JVC, JBL, and Sony each sell various aftermarket CarPlay systems for installation in vehicles that do not come standard with the feature. The aftermarket systems generally retail for between $600 and $1,400 depending on the model, and can usually be retrofitted into older vehicles for relatively minimal costs.
Aftermarket CarPlay systems works similarly to CarPlay systems installed in new vehicles, but they may lack some of the built-in vehicle controls at the steering wheel and in other locations. Aftermarket systems were some of the first CarPlay implementations and companies like Pioneer and Kenwood have been producing them for several years.
CarPlay was first announced at the 2013 Worldwide Developers Conference alongside iOS 7 as "iOS in the Car." At the time, it was described as iOS built into the car's navigation system, and several early partners were announced for 2014, including Honda, Mercedes, Nissan, Ferrari, Chevy, Kia, and Hyundai.
There were a few hints of iOS in the Car leading up to the official launch of iOS 7, with early exploration hinting at AirPlay compatibility. In July of 2013, Tim Cook called iOS in the Car "part of the ecosystem" that was a "key focus" for Apple, but when iOS 7 launched in September of 2013, iOS in the Car was not included.
Many 2014 vehicles instead came with a feature called "Siri "Eyes Free," a precursor to CarPlay that allowed iPhone owners to interact with their devices without needing to look at the screen. With Siri Eyes Free, pressing a button within the car activated Siri, letting a user relay commands. There was no integration with an in-dash display, however.
Rumors suggested that iOS in the Car was plagued by organizational issues, and screenshots leaked in January hinted at ongoing design revisions. An official announcement of iOS in the Car finally came a few months afterwards in March of 2014, at the Geneva International Motor Show, where it was unveiled as "CarPlay."
Apple announced CarPlay with several big-name partners already on board, like BMW, Ford, GM, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Nissan, and more. Many of these manufacturers initially targeted 2014 launch dates for CarPlay-enabled vehicles, but delays pushed launches into 2015 and 2016. For a long time, Ferrari was the only manufacturer with a CarPlay vehicle available, but support became much more widespread starting in the summer of 2015.
CarPlay is also available via multiple aftermarket in-dash systems from Pioneer, Kenwood, and Alpine.
Hands-On With CarPlay
Shortly after CarPlay launched, MacRumors went hands-on with the Alpine iLX-007 in-dash CarPlay entertainment system, which works primarily through a 7-inch capacitive touch screen.
Activating CarPlay is done by plugging in a Lightning cable to the iPhone, which connects the phone to the in-dash system and automatically brings up the CarPlay interface. Several different apps are displayed on the screen, including Phone, Music, Maps, Messages, and Podcasts, along with any CarPlay-compatible third-party apps installed on an iPhone like Spotify. On the Alpine unit, there's also a Main Menu button to go back to the main Alpine home screen and a Now Playing button for displaying current music. Other systems will have similar features to allow access to the main infotainment system options.
Individual CarPlay apps are opened with voice commands and there are also physical buttons on the unit for controlling volume, activating Siri, and more. In other CarPlay setups, such as those being built natively into upcoming vehicles, these types of controls may be located in other places like the steering wheel.
With the Alpine CarPlay unit, we were impressed with the ability to access content from our iPhone in an easy-to use format, but the lack of multi-touch and smooth scrolling was a major downside. CarPlay has the same general layout in all of its iterations, but screen sizes and included functionality will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.
Along with our own hands-on experience, there have been several CarPlay demo videos published, and one of the better videos can be seen below, demonstrating the technology in a Volvo.
Many sites have reviewed CarPlay and have been impressed with the way that it works. Consumer Reports said that CarPlay is "pretty cool" with simple menus, easy navigation, and "excellent Siri voice command integration" that effectively reduces driver distraction.
Car blog EFTM called many of the features "familiar" and pointed out some useful iOS-style features like visual voicemail. The site said the system is a "huge leap forward in safety" as it removes the temptation to look at the iPhone for messages and calls.
Digital Trends lauded CarPlay's Siri integration, highlighting Siri's ability to read text messages and place phone calls, but the site was not impressed with the small selection of third-party apps or the functionality of the Pioneer 8000-NEX system that CarPlay was tested on.
The Wall Street Journal went hands-on with CarPlay installed in a 2016 Corvette Stingray, praising features like Siri's accuracy and CarPlay's integration with Apple Music, but pointing out Apple Maps' inferiority compared to Google Maps and CarPlay's shortcomings compared to Google Now.
Due to Apple's commitment to user privacy, CarPlay collects very little data from users and car manufacturers. According to information released by Porsche, Apple only collects information on whether a car is accelerating while CarPlay is in use.
This is in stark contrast to Android Auto, which collects a lot more car data when in use. Google collects vehicle speed, oil and coolant temperature, throttle position, and engine revs, constituting "a full OBD2 dump whenever someone activates Android Auto."
CarPlay is compatible with the iPhone 5, the iPhone 5c, the iPhone 5s, the iPhone 6, the iPhone 6 Plus, the iPhone 6s, and the iPhone 6s Plus. It is not compatible with earlier iPhones or with the iPad and iPod touch.
CarPlay is available in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Republic of Korea, Spain, Switzerland, UK, and USA. Not all features may be available in all countries, however, such as with iTunes Radio currently being limited to the United States and Australia.
Since iOS 9, Apple has supported wireless CarPlay implementations. Nearly all CarPlay setups require an iPhone to be plugged in directly to the in-dash system to connect, but wireless CarPlay alleviates the need for a Lightning cable, allowing an iPhone to connect to an in-car system wirelessly.
There are no current implementations of wireless CarPlay, as Apple appears to be keeping the feature under wraps for now. Volkswagen had planned to show off an upcoming wireless CarPlay setup at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, but was prevented from doing so by Apple.
The Future of CarPlay
In February of 2015, rumors began circulating that Apple was working on some sort of car project after Apple-leased vehicles with multiple cameras on the top were spotted driving around the Bay Area.
An Apple employee hinted that Apple was working on a project that would "give Tesla a run for its money" and suggested that Tesla employees were "jumping ship" to work for Apple because of a project that was "too exciting to pass up."
Soon after, The Financial Times discovered that Apple had been recruiting automotive technology and vehicle design experts, and The Wall Street Journal followed that up with details on "Project Titan," Apple's effort to build an electric vehicle.
Apple is rumored to have hundreds of employees working on designing an Apple-branded minivan-like electric vehicle. Apple executives have declined to comment on the company's car plans, but Tesla CEO Elon Musk has called Apple's car project an "open secret" in the industry. Few details are known about Apple's work on an electric vehicle, but the company is said to be targeting a 2019 or 2020 project completion date.
While Apple's work is in the prototyping stages and there's no guarantee the rumored car will see a public release, it gives the company an opportunity to explore new technology like in-car electronics and a more advanced CarPlay system. It is not known if an Apple car will see the light of day, but if it does, it will undoubtedly come with a much more advanced, integrated version of CarPlay that expands CarPlay's abilities far beyond what's possible today.