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Everything you need to know about Apple CarPlay

Smartphones are extensions of many peoples’ arms. That has made it increasingly important for automakers to offer phone mirroring technologies in new vehicles, such as Apple CarPlay. The interface projects a familiar iPhone-like display on top of the standard infotainment system, giving users the ability to stream music and maps, use voice controls, and more. This overview will help you get a feel for Apple CarPlay’s functionality and how it could be a useful feature in your next car.

And for those interested in seeing if the grass is greener on the other side, we got this piece up for Android Auto and Android Automotive, as well. Yes, they’re related. No, they’re not the same.

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What does Apple CarPlay do?

Akin to Android Auto and Android-based phones, Apple CarPlay brings some of the iPhone’s most commonly used apps to the in-vehicle infotainment system. Some vehicles offer wireless connectivity, while others require a wired connection, but the functionality is the same regardless of how it’s set up. Though it might seem counterintuitive, CarPlay is intended to reduce the common distractions caused by using a smartphone while driving by placing most used functions closer to the driver’s line of sight.

Though CarPlay-capable vehicles have manufacturer-designed infotainment systems, the Apple interface overlays the stock software. That means that certain functions still rely on the vehicle’s built-in hardware, but the Apple software handles the visual and interactive components. A great example is with phone calls, as most vehicles offer hands-free calling through Bluetooth. While Apple CarPlay’s call system still relies on Bluetooth, the phone interface looks and feels just like an iPhone’s.

CarPlay can also supplement vehicle technology and add functionality to lesser-equipped models. The iPhone has had GPS navigation capabilities for as long as anyone can remember, but navigation isn’t a feature lavished on every new vehicle. CarPlay enables navigation in vehicles without the function and can bring other mapping apps, such as Waze and Google Maps.

Image credit: StackSocial

Getting started with Apple CarPlay

Unlike past technologies, which could require complicated setup and configuration, CarPlay is mostly a plug-and-play operation. If your car has wired Apple CarPlay, plug the device into the data USB port, and the vehicle should automatically recognize the phone as offering CarPlay. You may be asked to agree to share the device’s information with your vehicle, and Apple delivers a popup message on the device, also asking for confirmation.

Wireless connections offer similar ease of use, but there may be a few extra steps to getting started. You’ll have to turn on Bluetooth on your device and make sure that it’s discoverable to outside connections. Once you’ve selected the vehicle and begun the connection from your device, there is often a code or number that you’ll need to confirm between the two devices. 

Once set up, CarPlay should connect automatically each time you enter and start the vehicle. Depending on the model, you should also have multiple ways to access the native infotainment system, either by using a home button or an on-screen icon.

Siri works with Apple CarPlay

Siri works with Apple CarPlay, even if your car has built-in voice controls. The digital assistant offers many in-vehicle functions, including calls and text messages. Siri can read incoming messages and take dictation for outgoing messages, though it can sometimes be challenging to get the right wording or punctuation with voice commands. Similarly, users can make and take calls using Siri, and the function usually works with vehicles’ built-in voice command buttons. You can also get directions, play music, set calendar reminders, and get weather updates by asking simple questions.

Turning off Apple CarPlay

Turning off CarPlay is as easy as unplugging your phone, but there is a way to disable the vehicle connection going forward. You’ll need to head to your iPhone’s settings app and locate the CarPlay menu by searching. You can remove the vehicle from the list of CarPlay-approved connections there, but you’ll have to go through the initial setup again if you want to reconnect.

Chevrolet Silverado 1500 cockpit w/ Apple CarPlay
Image credit: Jeric Jaleco

Cars that have Apple CarPlay

The vast majority of new vehicles come with Apple CarPlay, leaving only the most outdated, cheapest models without it. Some automakers charge extra for the functionality, and some may only offer Apple CarPlay without Android Auto, but it’s hard to find a new car without the feature. If you’re looking for a used car, many started offering the tech in 2017 and 2018, but you’ll need to check the specific vehicle’s options list to be sure. Apple provides a list of every CarPlay-compatible vehicle right here if you have any questions. 

Big, longtime users of CarPlay include but absolutely, sure as heck are not limited to: BMW, Volkswagen, Ford, Chevrolet, Hyundai, Acura, Honda, Subaru, and pretty much mostly everyone else under the sun. But again, never hurts to check first.

Should you wish to add CarPlay to a vehicle that never included it, retrofit kits do exist, from Amazon to aftermarket parts retailers. Such goodies range from full-on infotainment system upgrades and screen replacements to more simplistic, dashboard-mounted nav screens.

Amazon CarPlay/Android Auto screen
Image credit: Amazon

Apple CarPlay FAQs

Does Apple CarPlay use my phone’s data connection?

Unless your car has a Wi-Fi hotspot, yes, your iPhone will use data for maps, traffic information, streaming music, and more. You can play downloaded podcasts and music without a data connection, but most CarPlay functions require one.

Can I add Apple CarPlay to a vehicle that doesn’t have it?

Depending on the age of the vehicle, maybe. Some newer models tie several functions into their infotainment systems, making it difficult or impossible to change things. Older cars with CD head units or even a cassette system should be pretty easy to retrofit. Having said that, some companies have devised methods of “projecting” CarPlay over a factory interface, but they’re not available for every model and may be clunky to use. 

Is there a monthly fee for Apple CarPlay?

While some automakers desperately want to charge owners for ongoing tech features, Apple CarPlay is free to use. That said, you may have subscription fees and other charges associated with specific apps or functions, so it’s a good idea to make sure you know what’s coming.

Can I use an iPad with Apple CarPlay?

Though it might seem like a no-brainer for CarPlay to offer iPad support, the system only works with iPhones. Beyond the physical differences between tablets and phones, there are software differences, and Apple has not extended CarPlay support to the iPad.

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Apple CarPlay is getting a facelift in 2024

While I’m not on the level of Grandpa Simpson, shaking my fist at the sky to bemoan technological progress, it’s hard to love the increasingly screen-heavy interiors of most new cars today. Apple CarPlay has made the connection between most smartphones and car technologies more bearable, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that the system will soon conquer all in-car technology interactions.

Porsche and Aston Martin recently announced updates to their in-car CarPlay interfaces, which will bring with it a far more involved system when it arrives in 2024. The new Apple interface will interact with the vehicle’s tire pressure sensors, outside thermometers, and more. Much like Android Automotive, the new CarPlay will also introduce certain UI design elements unique to specific car brands. The updates would bring a significant evolution in the system’s capabilities, but Apple will not store users’ data outside of the vehicle. 

Porsche’s mockup showing an updated Apple CarPlay home screen with additional displays and icons
Image credit: Apple / Porsche

We’re not talking about a radical departure from the CarPlay interfaces we’ve seen to date. Porsche’s mockup shows a home screen with a few new displays and icons, but it’s largely the same look that has become a mainstay in new cars today. 

These changes highlight a growing divide between automakers willing to embrace and progress the technology and those who feel differently. General Motors announced that it would no longer install Apple CarPlay in its new EVs, favoring Google’s services, but others have taken a softer approach, with companies like Ford saying they’d hold onto the tech. Tesla and a couple of others have never embraced the interface, instead relying on their own systems, but the car-buying public hasn’t expressed the same love for in-house systems over their preferred Apple interface. 

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Every new car-related feature in iOS 17

Perhaps lost in the bluster of Apple’s WWDC 2023 keynote on June 5, 2023 are some key updates to iOS 17 that should be of particular interest to iPhone users who are seeking a more connected driving experience. While it’s understandable that the $3499 Vision Pro AR/VR headset got all the headlines, these new features show that Apple sees a future where iOS is seamlessly integrated into your vehicle.

When iOS 17 is available later this year, Apple iPhone users will be able to:

  • Use SharePlay to play songs or add songs to shared playlists on an Apple CarPlay-enabled system.
  • Access real-time EV charger availability.
  • Download and access offline maps and directions in the Apple Maps app.

Let’s take a closer look at these three updates and how Apple CarPlay compares to Android Automotive OS and Android Auto.

SharePlay makes the aux cable obsolete

We’ll start with only one of these three features to get a big moment in the keynote. iOS 17 will include a feature called SharePlay that will allow iPhone users to play songs on CarPlay-enabled systems, even when they’re not the one connected. The presentation touted SharePlay’s road trip bona fides — no more arguing over who gets to steer the stereo next. Could this be the final nail in the aux cable’s coffin?

Still from Apple's WWDC 2023 conference keynote showing SharePlay integration on a Carplay vehicle. Yves Tumor's Echolalia is playing.
Image credit: Apple

Bonus hipster points for featuring Echolalia by Yves Tumor in the demo.

Still from Apple's WWDC 2023 conference keynote showing SharePlay integration making a shared playlist on an iOS 17 device.
Image credit: Apple

The demo goes on to show how multiple iPhone users can seamlessly add songs to a shared playlist, even if they don’t have an Apple Music account. Very kind of the Apple team to let this semester’s design interns pick the on-screen playlist.

All joking aside, this feature is quite cool and an absolute game-changer for anyone with CarPlay who hates having to pair another friend’s phone with their car every time a new [squints] Youth Lagoon song comes out.

Where we’re going, we don’t need cell towers

In a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, Apple announced that with iOS 17, you can now download offline maps and directions. I’m going to be honest here, I thought this was already a feature of Apple Maps, but I guess not.

According to Apple’s Press Release about upcoming iOS 17 app updates, simply select an area to download and you’ll have full offline access to search for points of interest as well as driving, walking, transit, and biking directions.

Image credit: Apple

This update will be especially useful for anyone who camps, hikes, or is planning to road trip somewhere a little “off-grid” for a while (I’m looking at you, Cybertruck pre-orderers.)

Another “W” for EVs.

Sneaking into Apple’s Press Release but not specifically mentioned during the WWDC 2023 keynote is an update to Maps’ electric vehicle charger info layer.

Image credit: Apple

Credit where it’s due: it’s pretty funny to be showing the chargers on “Battery St.” in San Francisco. The art team really went off for this presentation.

Although Apple Maps has included EV charger routing on select vehicles since it was announced at WWDC 2020, the iOS 17 build will feature enhanced, real-time information including charger availability filtered by plug type, preferred charging network, and more.

At launch, this feature will only be available on the two cars that support Apple Maps EV Routing: the Ford Mustang Mach-E and the Porsche Taycan, according to 9to5 Mac.

How does Apple CarPlay compare to Android Automotive OS or Android Auto?

As we mentioned last month, Google has two separate apps for vehicular computing, Android Automotive OS and Android Auto. Android Auto is a phone-based app that interfaces with your car’s existing entertainment system. On the other hand, Android Automotive OS was (like Tesla’s OS) built from the ground up for integration into vehicle dashboards and console screens.

In January 2022, Polestar showcased the Polestar 2’s Android Automotive OS-based infotainment system, calling it the “world’s first car with a built-in Android-powered operating system.”

Image of a Polestar 2 electric car's dashboard featuring Google Maps on an Android Automotive OS build.
Image credit: Polestar

Earlier this year, GM announced that it will be phasing out CarPlay and Android Auto support in favor of a custom-built Android Automotive OS system, and more automakers are following suit.

As far as which is better, Google Android Automotive OS or Apple CarPlay, a lot of factors come into play. It depends heavily on which app ecosystem you rely on, according to a Lifewire piece that ran before these latest features were announced.

To put it quite simply, Apple iPhone users will find easier interplay and more functionality with CarPlay, while Android users may appreciate Android Automotive OS’s offering.

To put it a little more specifically, per Lifewire:

Android Auto has greater support for third-party apps, but Apple CarPlay also has a wide selection with no important holes. Apple CarPlay also works with most Google apps, like Google Calendar and Google Maps, while the only Apple app you can use on Android Auto is Apple Music.


Surely, as Android Automotive OS becomes more ubiquitous, Google will be forced to make their apps play a little nicer with iOS, but only time will tell.

Overall, these developments are great news for anyone interested in a more connected driving experience. As our devices become more integrated with our vehicles, the days of fumbling for our phones to pick a song or distracted driving while re-routing a road trip will (hopefully) be over, or maybe we’ll just find new and innovative ways to “look at phone.”

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