The CarPlay interface is designed to be immediately familiar to anyone who has used iOS on an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. Connecting an iPhone to CarPlay through a Lightning cable brings up an iOS-style interface on the in-car display that offers a home screen complete with apps like Maps, Phone, Messages, Music, Podcasts, and several third-party offerings.
Apps are accessed via touch screen, through Siri, or through various in-car controls that might be located on the steering wheel or other location depending on the car manufacturer. On aftermarket offerings from companies like Pioneer and Alpine, physical controls are limited to buttons on the in-dash system unless special adapters are installed.
Though apps can be launched through touch-based controls, actions like sending a text message, making a phone call, or changing a music track are largely conducted through Siri. There is no on-screen keyboard, for example, so text messages are transcribed by voice much as they are when using dictation to send messages on an iPhone. More information on the included CarPlay apps and what they do can be found below.
Apple CarPlay Apps
Maps: Powered by the Apple Maps app on the iPhone, Maps within CarPlay lets users get detailed turn-by-turn directions to help them navigate. The CarPlay interface clearly displays the route, driving instructions, traffic conditions, and visual cues for upcoming turns. Estimated time of arrival is also included, along with an estimate of driving time and distance until the destination is reached.
Maps draws in location information from apps like Messages, Calendar, and Mail, and it also includes previous searches made on iOS. For example, if a user has a specific location for an upcoming meeting stored in the Calendar app, Maps pulls that info into the CarPlay interface. Maps also allows for voice commands through Siri, so it’s possible to ask Siri to find a gas station, a museum, or a specific address. In iOS 10, Maps gained traffic alerts and alternate routes to save time in traffic-heavy areas.
As of iOS 12, CarPlay works with third-party Maps apps like Google Maps, giving CarPlay users an alternative to Apple Maps. Many map apps have adopted CarPlay support following the update, including Google Maps, Waze, and others.
Phone: With the Phone app, it’s possible to ask Siri to dial calls, return missed calls, and listen to voice mail. The CarPlay Phone app also has a keypad so numbers can be punched in on the touchscreen, but for the most part, calls can be initiated by asking Siri to dial an existing contact.
A user might say, “Call mom,” for example, to place a phone call over the car’s speaker system. In-car controls are also used alongside the touchscreen for functions like muting calls or initiating conference calls.
Messages: As with phone calls, sending a message is reliant on Siri. Messages are dictated aloud to the voice assistant, with Siri confirming the content of the message to ensure accuracy before sending. When a response is received, Siri asks if the user wants it read aloud and then gives the option to send another text message, with the entire interaction being voice-based to prevent users from looking at their iPhones while driving.
Sample commands within the Messages app include “Read message from Kelly,” or “Send message to mom,” followed by the message content.
Audiobooks: The Audiobooks app is part of the iBooks app and lets users listen to audiobooks in their vehicles.
Apple Music: The CarPlay Music app allows customers to access content that has been downloaded from iTunes, the Apple Music streaming service, and the free Beats 1 radio station. Like other CarPlay apps, the Music app’s interface is immediately recognizable, with access to Artists, Songs, and Playlists. With Siri, it’s possible for Apple Music subscribers to play a specific songs or artists on-demand with commands like “Siri, play Beyonce.”
Podcasts: With the Podcasts app, CarPlay users can listen to their downloaded podcasts. The CarPlay interface is similar to the interface on iOS devices and should be immediately familiar to those who frequently use the Podcasts app.
Third-Party CarPlay Apps
Apple also lets third-party developers create dedicated apps for CarPlay. Available apps are audio-focused and primarily non-visual, in order to avoid introducing distractions into the car, with the content being played through the car’s speakers.
Third-party apps only show up on the CarPlay display if the app is installed on the iPhone. So, for example, if a user regularly listens to Spotify on the iPhone and has the Spotify app installed, Spotify is also available via the CarPlay interface.
Because of the audio-focused restriction, there are a limited number of apps that are compatible with CarPlay, but there are many podcast, maps, and music apps that work with CarPlay.