At its core, CarPlay 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 infotainment unit, 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 while driving a car.
When connected to an in-dash system via the iPhone's Lightning port or wirelessly in some cars, CarPlay gives the user in-car access to information stored on the iPhone, like contacts for phone calls and messages, music playlists and controls, Maps for navigation, calendar events, and more. Because CarPlay pulls its information from the iPhone, there's virtually no setup involved.
Automobile manufacturers have been building CarPlay support into cars since 2015, but there's also a way to get CarPlay in existing vehicles -- many aftermarket in-dash systems from companies like Sony, Pioneer, Kenwood, and Alpine are compatible with CarPlay and are readily available at reasonable prices. Porsche has even created an aftermarket system for Porsche models dating as far back as the 1960s. More than 400 vehicles manufactured from 2016 on include CarPlay, which covers most car manufacturers.
CarPlay is designed to be hands-free, introducing as little driver distraction as possible, and for that reason, it is voice-based and reliant on Apple's personal assistant Siri. Siri is used to perform a range of actions in the car, like placing phone calls, getting directions, sending and reading text messages, playing music, accessing apps, and more.
There are physical controls in the form of buttons and knobs that can activate Siri for CarPlay purposes, but these controls vary from vehicle to vehicle, based on how each manufacturer has implemented them. 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 requiring the cooperation of automobile makers and third-party hardware companies, it was initially slow to get off the ground, but currently, a whole range of CarPlay-enabled vehicles are available and CarPlay support is growing more and more common. Consumers are increasingly interested in CarPlay as a feature for new cars, and increased competition is spurring additional manufacturers to adopt the feature.
iOS 13 brought a major overhaul to CarPlay, with an updated, modernized design that features rounded corners, new table views, and an updated status bar. The CarPlay Dashboard will offer up easier access to maps, audio controls, and Siri Suggestions, plus there's a new design for Calendar that makes it easy to see the day's events at a glance.
Apple Music has a new look that includes album art in Now Playing and updated discovery tools, and when you activate Siri, Siri will only take up part of the screen so you can still see the rest of the CarPlay interface.
Apple Maps is available persistently on the dashboard in iOS 13, even when there are points of interest, and many iOS 13 Maps features are available in CarPlay, such as better route planning, search, and navigation, along with a new Junction View that offers up a clearer picture of intersections and the lane you need to be in.
Collections and Favorites, iOS 13 features in Maps, are available in CarPlay so you can get directions to your favorite places quickly. CarPlay systems are able to take advantage of "Hey Siri" when car manufacturers build in the feature, and Do Not Disturb While Driving can be enabled in CarPlay.
There's a light mode that's an alternative to the traditional dark mode, and there's a settings app for changing display options and Do Not Disturb settings. The new CarPlay features are available on iPhones updated to iOS 13.
We've done several reviews of different CarPlay-enabled vehicles, all of which can be found below. CarPlay is the same across various cars, but every manufacturer has a unique implementation due to the differences between infotainment systems.
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 Apple Maps app on the iPhone, 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 pulls 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. In iOS 10, Maps gained traffic alerts and alternate routes to save time in traffic-heavy areas.
As of iOS 12, CarPlay works with third-party Maps apps like Google Maps and Waze, giving CarPlay users an alternative to Apple Maps. Many mapping apps are adopting CarPlay support following the update.
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 can be initiated by asking Siri to dial an existing contact.
A user might say, "Call mom," for example, to place a phone call over the car's speaker system. In-car controls are also 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 asks if the user wants it read aloud and then gives 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: 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."
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.
Third-Party CarPlay Apps
Apple also lets third-party developers create dedicated apps for CarPlay. Available apps are audio-focused and primarily non-visual, in order to avoid introducing distractions into the car, with the content being played through the car's speakers.
Third-party apps 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 is also available via the CarPlay interface.
Because of the audio-focused restriction, there are a limited number of apps that are compatible with CarPlay, but there are many podcast, maps, and music apps that work with CarPlay.
CarPlay is available in hundreds of cars, with manufacturers like Cadillac, Chevrolet, Fiat-Chrysler, Ford, GMC, Honda, Kia, Lincoln, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Volvo, Nissan, BMW, Hyundai, Porsche, Toyota, Volkswagen, Infiniti, and more offering CarPlay-equipped vehicles that are available now. Even semi trucks are gaining CarPlay support, with Volvo introducing its CarPlay-equipped VNL series trucks, and Honda has also introduced the first motorcycle with CarPlay support.
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 to add new models, but may not include new CarPlay vehicles as soon as they are announced. For that reason, the CarPlay Timeline at the bottom of this roundup is also a good resource for finding news on CarPlay vehicles as soon as they're announced.
Apple's list includes over 400 new 2016, 2017, and 2018 models from nearly all vehicle manufacturers, and additional automobile manufacturers are adding support on a regular basis.
Alpine, Kenwood, Pioneer, JVC, JBL, and Sony all sell various aftermarket CarPlay systems for installation in vehicles that do not come standard with the feature. The aftermarket systems generally retail for between $400 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.
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.
Mercedes-Benz is adding wireless CarPlay support to its MBUX infotainment system, which debuted in 2019 A-Class models.
Ford is adding wireless CarPlay capabilities to some of its 2020 vehicles with the SYNC 4 infotainment system, and Fiat Chrysler's new Uconnect 5 platform supports wireless CarPlay connectivity. GM is also adding Wireless CarPlay in select 2021 vehicles.
Harman has said that wireless CarPlay support may eventually come to many of the car manufacturers it works with, like Audi, VW, Mercedes-Benz, Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep.
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."
What's Next for CarPlay
CarPlay in iOS 14 could support custom wallpapers, displaying the wallpaper on the CarPlay interface. The wallpapers would also switch between light and dark mode based on the time of day.
CarPlay is compatible with all iPhones from the iPhone 5 on, so it works with all modern iPhones. CarPlay is not compatible with earlier iPhones or with the iPad and iPod touch because cellular connectivity is required.
CarPlay is available in more than 35 countries, including Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, UK, and USA. Not all features are available in all countries, however.