Tag Archives: CarPlay


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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Android Automotive OS vs Android Auto: Wait, there’s a difference?

With technology taking center stage in modern car production, things like making calls, sending texts, and using apps from your dashboard have increasingly become the norm. In shopping for a new car, you might have heard terms like ‘Android Auto’ and ‘Android Automotive’ thrown around and assumed they’re the same thing. Sadly, Google has done us the disservice of putting the burden on our plate to shed light on the real head-scratcher of a conversation that is Android Automotive vs Android Auto.

While services like CarPlay and Android Auto rely on your phone to function, Google has taken a cue from Tesla, building an entire operating system (OS) from the ground up to ensure you’re never without internet, nor is your phone battery going to take a beating from the endless hours spent streaming music and navigating from place to place using Google Maps. On the surface, that’s the main difference: Android Auto is powered by your phone and Android Automotive is powered by the car itself.
Much like the mobile version of Android, you would find pre-installed on a Samsung Galaxy S23, for instance, Android Automotive is a standalone operating system built into the head unit in what is currently a limited selection of vehicles. Unlike CarPlay or Android Auto, it isn’t necessarily tethered to your phone, even if they share many of the same accounts to access essential apps like Google Maps and Spotify.

Android Automotive OS vs Android Auto

Image credit: Google

While Android Automotive is a dedicated OS programmed to work with a vehicle’s hardware, Android Auto is a platform within your car’s own native OS – usually developed in-house by the manufacturer – that mirrors supported apps from your phone. 

Once connected, Android Auto opens your car’s existing OS up to display certain apps from your phone – navigation, calls, music playback, what have you, without suction cupping it to your windshield or mounting it to your AC vent. Android Automotive works independently of your other devices, so you can use it even if you own an iPhone. 

Although both Android Automotive and Android Auto are both in-vehicle solutions made by Google, Android Automotive has utility outside of software alone. With it, you can use it to adjust climate controls, the sunroof, windows, mirrors, and even massage seats if you have ’em. Android Automotive is more akin to what Tesla has in its cars, an all-in-one infotainment suite with a hand in everything your car does.

A significant disparity between Android Automotive vs Android Auto is the compatibility requirements. While Android Auto necessitates you own a smartphone running Android 6.0 or later, Android Automotive is limited to just a few vehicles that arrive on the lot with it already installed – in other words, if you buy a car without it, there’s no option to add Android Automotive to your vehicle later on. But, once you have it, Android Automotive is the more reliable platform, as its services won’t be interrupted in the event your phone dies.

What is Android Automotive OS? 

Android Automotive is a version of Google’s Android OS designed specifically for vehicle infotainment systems – the big tablet or normal-sized display, depending on your make and model, sitting in your center console. 

Because we’re in an awkward stage of automotive technology where there is no uniform approach, sometimes the infotainment OS is a stand-in for HVAC controls, and in other cases, it’s not. Either way, since it’s designed to scale across many different vehicles, Android Automotive lets you adjust climate controls, organize your apps into folders, talk to Google Assistant, and more. It especially comes in handy for EV owners as it can provide accurate charge level information.
Volvo and Audi were the first auto brands to partner with Google in building Android Automotive for their next-generation vehicles. Although Google revealed Android Automotive to the public in 2017, it didn’t officially debut until the Polestar 2 came along in 2021.

What is GAS (Google Automotive Services)?

In addition to Android Automotive, some supported vehicles also ship with Google Automotive Services (GAS). In this case, you can download third-party apps found on the Google Play Store. Without GAS, Android Automotive users are limited to apps authorized by Google.

What is Android Auto? 

Android Auto is an app for Android phone users to display content from their mobile devices to the infotainment display in their cars. Often bundled with CarPlay, Apple’s iPhone equivalent, Android Auto has been a mainstay since Google announced it in 2014.

The Hyundai Sonata made history as the first model to come with Android Auto, paving the way for nearly every new model year to support it today. Google claims over 500 models are compatible with more to be added soon. Don’t expect to find Android Auto or CarPlay if you’re thinking of getting a Tesla, though. Without a warranty-defiant workaround, the House of Musk still gives drivers no choice but to use its own proprietary software. 

Android Auto gets frequent over-the-air system updates and bug fixes, always doing its best to deliver the optimal on-the-road experience for Android folks. You can use Android Auto either wirelessly or with a USB cable, though compatibility varies from car to car. Only 2020 models and newer support wireless connectivity.

Which is better – Android Automotive OS vs Android Auto?

Image credit: General Motors
After axing CarPlay and Android Auto, future GM vehicles like the Silverado EV will feature Android Automotive.

While many see Android Automotive as a replacement for Android Auto, it’s unlikely Google will discontinue the latter. Android Auto. Despite its limitations, Android Auto greatly improves the driving experience for those otherwise stuck with software designed by the manufacturer. 

On the other hand, it’s possible automakers themselves will ditch Android Auto and CarPlay in favor of full-service solutions like Android Automotive, as General Motors recently announced it’s doing, to avoid developing and maintaining their own software. Contrary to the recent backlash that decision sparked, it appears to be the inevitable next step for automakers. GM is just bearing the brunt of the outrage because it’s pushing ahead first.

If you can find a car you like within your budget that has Android Automotive already installed, it is without a doubt the more complete product. However, while the list of supported vehicles is growing, Android Automotive is still in its early days. Unless you can spend upwards of $60K before dealership fees and taxes on a brand-new set of wheels, Android Automotive isn’t an option for most people right now.

Both Android Automotive and Android Auto come in handy, but their increased adoption raises concerns about cybersecurity threats. As cars and tech evolve to become one, drivers open themselves up to unprecedented vulnerabilities. Not only do you have to worry about packing your kids’ lunch and getting to work on time, but now there’s also the risk of having your assisted driving systems hijacked by a malicious assailant. In other words, as Ubisoft predicted years ago, Watch_Dogs is one step closer to becoming real.

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