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What Is CarPlay?

Posted by Auto.com Staff | Jan 2, 2019

CarPlay is an Apple-specific system that lets you display certain phone applications on your car's built-in infotainment display system - touchscreen and otherwise. While not all iPhone apps will be displayed, it is a convenient tool that allows you to access things like maps or messaging when driving with the idea being to keep your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. Apple CarPlay and its counterpart, Android Auto, are not available on all cars, so you will want to check with the manufacturer if it is an available option on the car you are interested in buying.

Mobile phone technology seems to be growing at a record pace – the next new app could be here tomorrow, and developers work hard to stay ahead of the curve. Unfortunately, the technology used in most car’s multimedia systems cannot adapt and grow at the same pace. This can make their systems feel outdated and sluggish in even the newest of cars. And who wouldn't rather hear turn-by-turn navigation in Siri's familiar voice?

This is where Apple CarPlay comes in. Instead of using your vehicle’s on-board navigation system, you can open up the navigation system from your iPhone and have quick and up-to-the-minute directions. By accessing the iOS data, your car can relay messages from your phone in Siri’s voice through your car’s audio system. You can access your CarPlay apps, like your favorite Spotify playlists, directly from you car’s in-dash system display.

This isn’t to say that the CarPlay interface is not without issues. Because of the inherent complications between two different systems trying to communicate, there can be glitches. The display shows a very pared-down version of what you would see on your phone. You may have to back out of the system to access certain other programs from the home screen on your vehicle’s display unit. Additionally, not all apps will be accessible: App developers must apply directly to Apple to be granted approval to be included as a CarPlay-enabled iOS application.

CarPlay only works with the iPhone 5 and newer, so if you are holding on to that old iPhone you may be out of luck. But the ability to use a system more familiar to what most people are used to using on their smartphones has made CarPlay increasingly popular. There are some car manufacturers that are still not CarPlay-compatible. If you have an older car, there are some aftermarket manufacturers that make adapter units to add CarPlay support.