What is Apple CarPlay and how does it work?

Apple CarPlay BMW 5 Series 2023

CarPlay lets you to use iPhone’s apps through your car’s infotainment screen

We explain everything you need to know about Apple’s smartphone mirroring software

Want to stay connected to your iPhone while you’re on the move? You’ll need Apple CarPlay – the technology giant’s in-car software which mirrors your apps and services right onto your infotainment screen.

An alternative to Google’s Android Auto for owners of a fruit-based phone, Apple CarPlay is essentially a requirement if you own an iPhone and you want to stay connected while driving. It allows you to legally take phone calls, display your favourite navigation app, and to play your favourite music all while on the move. 

Similarly to Android Auto, Apple Carplay is controlled through large icons on your infotainment screen. Most cars nowadays have a touchscreen, but those that don’t will likely control the software using a rotary dial. 

Also like its Google rival, many drivers prefer to use Apple CarPlay over the operating system (OS) included in their vehicle as standard. Car makers also understand the value of the product, with some 600 car models around the world using the software. 

Does my iPhone have Apple CarPlay?

Every iPhone produced since the iPhone 5 (2012) is compatible with Apple CarPlay, and it has been automatically installed for free in all versions of the iOS software since the 7.1 update. For a full list of compatible iPhones, head to Apple’s guide and scroll to the bottom of the page.

How do I open Apple CarPlay?

Once you’ve made sure your car is one of the 600-plus models compatible with the software, there are a few ways you can connect to Apple CarPlay. Here’s a list of them

The most common connection method is by using a USB cable, though some newer models offer wireless Bluetooth connectivity. 

If you own a model before the iPhone 15, you’ll have a lightning-to-USB cable supplied out of the box. All iPhones after the most recently launched iPhone 15 will feature a more universal USB-C cable. 

How to connect to Apple CarPlay

First, locate the relevant USB port on your car: this is usually below the infotainment screen, in the central storage bin or somewhere on your centre control. 

Plug in your phone, and a message should appear after a few seconds asking if you want to start Apple CarPlay. Simply press ‘yes’ and the service will start on the infotainment screen. 

If your car supports both wired and wireless CarPlay connections, this will also register your phone to use the service wirelessly on future drives. You’ll be prompted to start CarPlay when you start the car in close proximity to your phone.

If your car supports only a wireless connection – or you don’t want to use a cable – the connection process is slightly more complicated, and the procedure will vary from car to car. 

Some require you to plug your phone in for the first time, before connecting wirelessly every time afterwards. Others will act as a Wi-Fi hotspot which you can connect to through phone. 

What apps can I use through Apple CarPlay? 

Not all apps support Apple CarPlay, but those that do will display on your car’s infotainment screen while you’re connected. Many popular apps do support CarPlay. Here’s a list of some of our favourites:

Spotify – a popular music, podcast and audiobook streaming service

Messages – You can’t text while driving, of course, but Apple’s Siri software will read out your received texts and allow you to send messages back via voice control

Amazon Music – a music streaming app from commercial giant Amazon

BBC Sounds – the BBC’s own streaming app for podcasts and live radio

Apple Maps – Apple’s in-house navigation service

Waze – an indepenent navigation app with many exclusive features not seen on its Google and Apple counterparts

Google Maps – Yes, Apple CarPlay is an Apple product – but you can still use Google Maps, which is arguably the most reliable navigation app out there

ZapMap, ChargePoint, Plugshare – Independent apps to quickly find a public charging point for that all-important battery top-up. 

Can you play games on Apple CarPlay?

CarPlay is designed to help you drive without being distracted by your phone, so no – you can’t play games using the software. There would be a significant risk that you will become distracted by the game and become a hazard to yourself and others on the road.

Which cars have Apple CarPlay?

Fun fact: the first ever car to feature Apple CarPlay was the Ferrari FF, which was updated in 2014 to add the functionality. 

Most mainstream brands have added Apple CarPlay to their cars since, but it was often reserved for more expensive trim levels, or it was offered as an optional extra. 

Now, though, it’s usually a standard feature due to its popularity. As we mentioned above, over 600 car models on sale today are available with CarPlay, including cars from Audi, Volkswagen, Hyundai, Skoda, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, BMW and Ford.

If you’re still unsure whether your car supports CarPlay – or whether to connect using a USB cable, or wirelessly – check the owner’s manual or consult Apple’s list of available models. 

My car is old and doesn’t have Apple CarPlay – can I fit it myself?

You can fit Apple CarPlay yourself, but it would likely have to be self-installed, with a system from an aftermarket manufacturer. So long as the car has a standard-sized (single- or double-DIN) sound system, it should be compatible. 

This can be replaced by a more modern touchscreen system from aftermarket manufacturers such as Alpine, Pioneer and Sony, with prices varying from around £200 to £1500 depending on screen size and functionality.

You can do this yourself, but we’d recommend going to a car audio professional for peace of mind – even if it will cost a little extra.

Is Apple CarPlay free?

Apple CarPlay is free to use, as are most of the apps that support it. Some manufacturers might still only include it on high trim levels of their cars, or as an optional extra on entry-level models.

For example, the Dacia Sandero’s Essential trim does not come with an infotainment screen at all, so you have to upgrade to Expression to get a unit with CarPlay support.

In the future, some manufacturers may charge a monthly subscription fee to access the service. In 2019, BMW attempted to introduce an £85 annual fee to use Apple CarPlay after the first year of ownership, but it reversed the decision after a backlash from owners and the media.

You’ll also need to be wary of your mobile data charges, if your contract doesn’t cover it already. Podcasts, music streaming and other apps can use a lot of data quickly, so make sure you keep an eye on what you’re downloading to avoid any unwanted charges. 

What is the next generation of Apple CarPlay?

The next generation of Apple CarPlay is due to arrive in 2024 after a major update arrived earlier this year. The update will expand the system’s reach from the infotainment across to all driver displays, including digital instrument panels. 

This means you’ll be able to completely customise the layout of your car’s dashboard with widgets prioritising the most important functions. 

For example, you’ll be able to display the sat-nav between the dials on the instrument display, meaning you won’t have to turn your head to the side to check for directions.

What cars support next-generation CarPlay?

Apple will begin to announce which cars will support next-generation CarPlay from late 2023. Expect full functionality to be reserved for new cars with expansive screens such as the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class’s Superscreen.

Models that currently support CarPlay are likely to continue to support it but in a limited capacity, similar to the current functionality.

Source: Autocar

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