How Does Apple CarPlay Work? What Does It Do?
If you’re like us, your car and your iPhone are among the most important devices in your daily routine. For all the different things they do, it can be helpful when they work together. For that, there’s Apple CarPlay. This system works to integrate your vehicle and Apple mobile device. It’s been around since about 2014, with many features and capabilities added since then. Here are some Apple CarPlay basics you need to know to get started.
What Is CarPlay?
CarPlay is a piece of software that allows your Apple iPhone to interface with your car’s built-in entertainment and information system (known as the infotainment system—essentially, its dashboard screen). CarPlay increases convenience and reduces distraction by putting commonly used apps that would be necessary or especially useful while driving on your car’s infotainment display. By doing so, CarPlay minimizes the need to actually handle your iPhone while driving.
What Does Apple CarPlay Do?
CarPlay allows some iPhone apps to be displayed on and controlled by your car’s infotainment system. It also lets these apps better integrate with your vehicle’s hardware. A goal of this is to reduce the use of your iPhone while driving. Phone calls, text messaging, GPS navigation, audio or entertainment, and calendaring are among functions that CarPlay provides. When CarPlay is connected, it typically overrides functionality provided by your vehicle’s native infotainment system.
For example, most new vehicles have Bluetooth. When making a phone call, the car’s built-in speakers and microphone handle the audio. When CarPlay is connected, the call is handled in the same way. However, your car’s infotainment display shows a layout resembling the phone app on your iPhone. Your iPhone’s contacts, favorites, recent calls, and voicemails all show up on the infotainment screen.
Another example is with GPS navigation. Regardless of whether your car has its own built-in navigation system, CarPlay can display popular navigation apps on your car’s infotainment screen. That lets you get directions from apps you may prefer over your vehicle’s built-in navigation system. It’s an example of how CarPlay can increase your vehicle’s functionality or improve on features it already has.
How Do I Set Up Apple CarPlay?
Setting up CarPlay is typically simple. First, you’ll need a cable that will connect to your car and iPhone. That’ll likely have a USB type-A or type-C plug on one end, and Apple’s proprietary Lightning plug on the other.
Next, locate your car’s USB data port; some vehicles have USB ports which simply charge without transmitting data. They’re typically labeled with icons. Plug the cable into the data port and into your iPhone.
After that, you’ll have to grant permission both on your infotainment screen and on your iPhone. Watch for prompts to pop up on both. The prompt may explain what information is being shared between your car and iPhone. You may also see a random number that can be found on both as a sort of “receipt” confirming the pair between your car and iPhone. Simply tap the prompts in the affirmative to proceed with pairing.
That’s all it takes to set up CarPlay. From that point on, CarPlay should start automatically whenever you plug in your iPhone using that USB port. If you need to use your car’s native infotainment system for whatever reason, there should be an icon or button that allows you to switch back and forth between it and CarPlay.
Does Apple CarPlay Work With Bluetooth?
An increasing number of vehicles are ditching cables in favor of wireless Apple CarPlay. Functionality is identical, just without a physical connection between your phone and car—wireless CarPlay works with Bluetooth instead. Setup is slightly different; you’ll need to go through the Bluetooth settings in your car and iPhone. Once that’s done, it’ll work just like plugging in, pairing, and starting CarPlay automatically every time you get inside.
One drawback of wireless CarPlay is that it doesn’t simultaneously charge your iPhone, like when you plug in with a USB cable. That said, you can still plug your iPhone into a USB port to keep it charged—the wireless CarPlay connection will continue to work. Or, if your vehicle has a wireless device charger, you can simply rest your iPhone there instead.
How To Use Siri With Apple CarPlay
To support its mission of reducing distraction behind the wheel, CarPlay limits some of your iPhone’s normal functionality. You can’t do everything in CarPlay that you can when you’re simply holding your phone. Instead, the Siri digital assistant helps do those for you.
Take text messages, for example. When you receive one, you’ll see a notification on the CarPlay infotainment screen. When you tap it, Siri will read the message aloud. You’ll have a chance to reply by dictating a message for Siri to transcribe. That way you don’t have to take your eyes off the road to type out a message.
Siri can do lots of things in CarPlay. Besides text messages, it can set calendar reminders, get GPS map directions, play a track from your music library, or make a phone call. There are a few ways to activate Siri in CarPlay. One is to speak “Hey, Siri” if that functionality is set up on your phone. Another is to press and hold the CarPlay home button on your infotainment screen, which looks like two rows of squares, or the CarPlay dashboard button, which looks like a square and lines. If your vehicle has a voice control or phone button on the steering wheel, pressing or pressing and holding that can activate Siri as well.
How Do I Turn Off Apple CarPlay?
Turning off CarPlay is simple: just unplug the cable. That’ll restore your vehicle’s native infotainment software to the display. You can also use it while CarPlay is running. Use the infotainment’s home or menu button to access those functions while your iPhone plays music or makes a call through CarPlay, or just charges. There will be a button or icon to return to CarPlay when you want to.
If for some reason you want to disconnect your phone from CarPlay entirely, find the CarPlay menu in your iPhone’s settings app. That will bring up a list of any vehicles it’s connected to CarPlay with. From there, you can delete that car. Doing so will require you to set up CarPlay again next time you plug in.
What Cars Have Apple CarPlay?
In 2021, only niche or outdated vehicles aren’t equipped with CarPlay. A few manufacturers—Ferrari, for example—offer CarPlay at extra cost. But the majority of cars in our 2021 vehicle rankings feature CarPlay as standard. It’s evidence of how two of our most important, useful devices are becoming ever more closely linked.
Apple maintains a list of every year, make, and model of vehicle that’s compatible with CarPlay. Check it out here.
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