Jonathan Wylie is a writer, educator and podcaster. You can hear the audio version of this article, and others, on the Unpacking iOS podcast
What Is Apple CarPlay?
Apple's CarPlay is a way that you can use your iPhone to help you interact with the infotainment system in your car. It lets you access your music, podcast, maps, calendar and more. You can also use it to make a receive hands-free phone calls. All you need is an iPhone 5 or later, and a car that supports CarPlay software.
Typically, you connect to CarPlay by connecting your iPhone to your car via a USB cable, however, some cars do have the ability to connect to CarPlay wirelessly via Bluetooth. You can control CarPlay hands-free with Siri, or by using the touchscreen in your car. You can also use the knobs and controls on your car's entertainment system.
What Cars Have Apple CarPlay?
Not all cars currently support CarPlay, but Apple claims that over 500 models on the road today will let you take advantage of their in-car entertainment software. When it was first released, there were only a limited number of vehicles that supported it, but today, everyone from Ford to Ferrari have cars that come with CarPlay built-in. Some automakers, like Toyota, have been slow to add CarPlay support to their cars, but increasingly, this is something that consumers are looking for when they are buying a new car, so Toyota began their CarPlay roll out with 2019 models. You can see a full list of cars that support CarPlay on Apple's website.
If your car does not have CarPlay, and you are not looking for a new car any time soon, you can always opt for an aftermarket upgrade. Sony, Pioneer, Kenwood and others will gladly sell you a CarPlay head unit that you can use to replace your existing infotainment system. You can find tutorials on how to do this for your car on YouTube, or you can contact an automotive electrician to do the job for you.
What Apps Support CarPlay?
Only a limited number of apps support CarPlay. This is for safety reasons. Apple does not want you watching videos or playing games while you are driving, and neither does your local law enforcement. Consequently, the only apps that are able to take advantage of CarPlay are things like audio apps, messaging apps, voice apps or navigation apps.
This means you can use your favorite music services like Apple Music, Spotify, and Pandora, or podcast apps like Apple Podcasts, Overcast, and Pocket Casts. Audible is another popular CarPlay app. You can use Messages, What's App or the Phone app on your iPhone to send and receive messages and phone calls, while Apple Maps, Google Maps, Waze and others are available to help you navigate while you drive.
If you are unsure if an app supports CarPlay, check the App Store. Developers will often include CarPlay in their app description alongside the other features that the app offers.
The New CarPlay Dashboard
In iOS 13, Apple gave CarPlay a major update that included several new features. One of the most noticeable changes that were introduced was the new CarPlay Dashboard. The Dashboard dispenses with the familiar rows of app icons and instead gives you a more functional, all-in-one view that combines information from multiple sources. It lets you see your current navigation route, as well as audio player controls, Siri Suggestions, and even your upcoming calendar events.
If all this sounds a little, well, distracting, you can tap on any of the Dashboard cards to view an app in full screen. You can also revert to CarPlay's Home Screen view by tapping the icon in the bottom left-hand corner of your screen.
Recently Used Apps in CarPlay
Whether you are on the Home Screen or the CarPlay Dashboard, recently used apps are only a tap away. They live on the left-hand side of the screen. Here you will find the three most recently used apps to save you hunting for the one you want. Personally, I don't use all that many apps in CarPlay, so the recently used apps are perfect for me because they are a quick way to access the apps that I do use. However, the apps will change based on your usage, so if you remember they are there, they are a definitely handy thing to have access to.
Use Siri With CarPlay
While you can interact with CarPlay via touch, or by using the control knobs in your car, going hands-free is among the most convenient, and least distracting methods. If you press and hold the voice control button on your steering wheel you can invoke Siri to do your bidding. You can also summon Siri by pressing and holding on the Home Screen/Dashboard icon in the bottom left-hand corner of your CarPlay screen, or by saying "Hey Siri" if you have that enabled on your iPhone under Settings > Siri & Search.
You can ask Siri to open apps, send messages, make phone calls or get directions. It can also read incoming messages, send emails, play voicemails, and give you weather updates. It can even be your personal DJ as you search for the best tunes to play on your road-trip. Best of all, the latest CarPlay update changed the way that Siri appears on-screen. It will no longer fill the whole screen. Instead, it appears as a discreet overlay at the bottom of your existing screen, and this means that maps and other apps can still be seen while Siri is active.
Using Maps in Apple CarPlay
Apple Maps got a redesign in the latest CarPlay update to make it easier to use, and easier on the eye. It still works a lot like the Maps app on your iPhone or iPad, but there are some subtle additions that really can make a big difference. For instance, it is now a lot easier to find gas stations, restaurants or parking on your route via the pop-up search options in the bottom left-hand corner of your screen. Spoken directions are more succinct in iOS 13, and the ability to share your ETA is a nice option for those who want to keep friends or relatives in the loop about your arrival time.
Otherwise, if you prefer to navigate with Google Maps or Waze, you absolutely can. Apple supports third-party navigation apps in CarPlay and also via Siri if you use commands like, "Navigate to work with Waze."
CarPlay Update: The Calendar App
The Apple Calendar app is another new addition to CarPlay in iOS 13. It syncs your appointments from the Calendar app on your iPhone so that you can check on your schedule while on the road. You can tap the Calendar icon at any time to see a summary of your scheduled appointments, but if you have an upcoming event that is scheduled to start soon, CarPlay will include that event in the Dashboard view.
You can view more information about a calendar event by tapping on it. If your appointment is set for a specific location, you can also tap on the address and CarPlay will open the Maps app and give you the directions you need to get there. However, this only works if locations are entered directly into the Calendar app on your Apple device. If you sync your calendar from Outlook or Google Calendar, the event locations will not allow you to tap on them to get directions. Instead, the address just appears as text.
How to Rearrange CarPlay Apps
Now that you are familiar with how to use CarPlay, you can start customizing it to your liking. A great place to start is with the apps on your screen. You can choose which ones appear, and the order that they appear, by making some quick adjustments on your iPhone. Here's how.
- Open the Settings app on your iPhone, then tap General > CarPlay
- Tap on the name of your vehicle
- Tap Customize
- To add or remove apps, tap the green plus or red minus sign
- To rearrange apps, drag them up or down with the handle to the right-hand side of the app you want to move
Some apps, like Maps, Music or Messages cannot be removed from your list of CarPlay apps. If you don't think you will use one of these apps, you can always drag it down to the bottom of your list. This will likely move it to a second, or third, screen of apps, and will prevent it from taking up precious space on your home screen.
How to Customize CarPlay Settings
You can make further tweaks by accessing the new Settings app inside of CarPlay. There are not a lot of options to choose from here, but the ones that are included are worth checking out. In the CarPlay Settings app, you can choose to enable Do Not Disturb while Driving, and you can toggle between dark and light modes. If you prefer, you can also disable Siri Suggestions in the Dashboard view or decide whether you want to show album art while playing music or podcasts.
A Worthwhile Upgrade to Apple's Car Software
The latest additions to CarPlay have really added a lot of value to this popular interface. As someone that drives over an hour each day, I really enjoy using CarPlay and find that it helps me concentrate more on my driving and less on what is happening on my phone. Do you agree? Let me know in the comments below.
Video: CarPlay Updates in iOS 13
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Jonathan Wylie