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Spotlight on: Apple CarPlay

  • Dedicated iPhone operating system for cars
  • Access to Siri, Maps, Messaging and Music
  • First available for Mercedes, Volvo and Ferrari

The ability to connect an iPhone and access elements of its content, such as music, via your car’s dashboard controls is nothing new – plenty of cars come with an Apple connector cable in the glovebox or centre console or do a similar job via a Bluetooth connection.

That concept is about to be taken a big step further however, with the introduction of Apple CarPlay. It’s a dedicated operating system for cars that enables iPhone owners to use a greater range of their phone’s functions while behind the wheel and was on show at the Geneva motor show earlier this week.

What is CarPlay?

It’s similar in essence to Apple’s AirPlay system, which allows files to be streamed to televisions and speakers in the home. To use CarPlay, you’ll need a fifth-generation iPhone with the new-style ‘Lightning Connector’ lead, so that’s a 5, 5C or 5S. As before, the phone will be charged while connected.

When enabled, CarPlay transforms a car’s existing multimedia screen (generally in the centre of the dashboard and used to display media, radio and sat-nav functions) into an extension of the iPhone’s home screen with a similar interface to the phone’s regular menu layout.

It can be controlled either via voice commands using Apple’s Siri function or in the same way as the car’s regular multimedia system, whether that be via touchscreen or a rotary controller, as in BMW and Mercedes models, for example, or by using buttons on the steering wheel.

What can it do?

Initially, CarPlay is focused around four main functions: Phone, Messages, Music and Maps.

Phone calls can be initiated via the Siri voice command function, which is also used to read out text messages or dictate replies.

As you’d expect, you can access tunes from the iPhone’s music library but also music apps such as Spotify and a variety of internet radio stations.

CarPlay makes more advanced use of Apple Maps, which can display turn-by-turn directions to a destination on the screen along with real-time traffic information. Rather unnervingly, the system will apparently also anticipate and suggest destinations based not only on recent trips but information from contacts and emails stored on the phone.

What cars will it be fitted to?

Mercedes-Benz, Volvo and Ferrari will be the first manufacturers to roll out CarPlay on certain models this year, followed by Honda and Hyundai. Other companies will follow suit from next year, including BMW, Ford, Jaguar Land Rover, Kia and Peugeot.

The new C-Class will be the first Mercedes to feature the system when it’s launched in June, with the system gradually added to other models from September.

Whether CarPlay or will be available as a retrofit accessory for older cars is still being worked out.

As for Android and Windows phone users, Google will be launching its own similar system for Android phones soon and Microsoft is working on a system of its own too.

For more news from the 2014 Geneva motor show click here.