What is Apple Carplay and does my car have it?

  • Functionality of your iPhone on your car’s touchscreen
  • Call, message, play music or use Apple’s mapping function
  • Available on most new cars, but can be retrofitted too

Apple CarPlay is Apple’s answer to better in-cabin functionality. Apple argues that with a more familiar interface and apps you are already registered with, there’ll be less distracted driving.

In fairness to Apple, until recently, car manufacturers’ proprietary systems were utter dog. Quickly outdated, with garish graphics and inaccurate navigation, technology from handset providers proved more capable to get you where you want to be, in comfort.

One of the advantages tech firms, like Apple, have always had over car companies is their confidence to rely on over-the-air (OTA) updates. These remote updates are often deployed on mobile handsets. They contain fixes for glitches in the software, patches for security vulnerabilities and new features—sometimes created from customer feedback.

For too long, car companies lagged behind, allowing the chasm between proprietary systems and mobile phone capabilities to grow. Moreover, with Apple’s well-established app store, developers don’t need to create and maintain the same app across each car makers’ individual proprietary platform.

What is Apple CarPlay?

>> How to add Alexa to your car

How does Apple CarPlay work?

This ‘phone mirroring’ technology works via a cable, or wirelessly in some newer cars.

Connect your phone – an iPhone 5 running iOS 7.1 is the minimum standard – and you’ll see Apple ‘takes over’ the centre console display. Car makers, which have configured Carplay correctly, will have put the ‘Home’ button on the side of the display closest to the driver to minimise reach, keeping the driver safer.

What does it allow you to do?

Carplay is not a complete replication of your iPhone on your car’s screen. You’re offered journey-relevant functions, such as Phone, Messages, Maps, Music plus a small selection of third-party apps like the audio streaming service Spotify.

Since the release of iOS 12, CarPlay offers support for more third-party applications—notably navigation, which previously was only possible through Apple’s own Maps app.

It’s so easy-to-use. Press the virtual buttons on-screen as you would your iPhone, or tap your car’s voice activation button to initiate Siri, for instance. It’s worth noting, to distinguish between activating the car’s digital assistant and Siri, you need to hold the button a beat longer for Siri in some models.

Does my car have Apple CarPlay?

Though Carplay first came to market in 2014, it’s only really been more widely available in the last few years. If you connect your iPhone to your car’s USB socket and there’s no immediate mention of CarPlay on either the infotainment screen or your device, then it’s not installed. We suggest checking with the dealer you bought it from.

Currently most manufacturers offer CarPlay across a selected range of their cars. 

>> Click here to see the complete list of available models with Apple CarPlay

Does my car have Apple CarPlay?

Aftermarket CarPlay-compatible head units from Alpine, Kenwood or Pioneer can be bought for around £300 if Carplay isn’t integrated into your car’s system.

How well does it work?

When we have reviewed cars with CarPlay installed, the Phone, Maps (sat-nav) and Music functions work particularly well, but composing a message through dictation, for example, “Will-I-meet-you-at-the-bridge-after-seven-pee-em-question-mark” isn’t especially natural.

Thankfully your message is read back to you before sending, so you can re-compose, multiple times, if necessary. It begs the question, if you’re concentrating on the right wording, are you concentrating on the road?

Incoming texts are read out loud – heads-up for those with passengers in the car. What’s more, Siri hasn’t yet learned that kisses at the end of a message aren’t pronounced “ex ex ex”.

Why even have it in the car?

It’s been illegal to use a mobile phone behind the wheel of a car since 2003 in the UK. Yet, people are still convicted of mobile phone offences while driving every day. Our busy lives mean we rely more and more on our mobile handsets; for banking, applying for jobs, keeping in touch with people and entertaining ourselves with games and streaming services.

Granted, not all these actions are appropriate in a car. However, technology is enabling us to better use our time in many ways. Long gone are the days scouting around for change in the car, simply use RingGo or Park&Pay for convenience.

You might know that home-to-work route like the back of your hand, but do you know the traffic situation in any given minute on any given day? No. But Apple Maps, Waze and Google Maps do.

Are you running late for a customer? No need to jeopardise your professionalism for traffic at unexpected roadworks—a quick call keeps them posted on your estimated time of arrival.

Society’s shift towards the use of technology in our daily lives is not going away anytime soon. In fact, infotainment systems are becoming, somewhat controversially, much larger.


For owners of more recent iPhones, Apple CarPlay provides much of the functionality you already enjoy in your car, so using it is second nature.

That it keeps you on the right side of the law merely adds to its attraction.

Further reading

>> What is Android Auto?

>> Surveillance capitalism and your car

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