Entertainment iPhone and iPad

Apple CarPlay Quick Guide: What It Is, How It Works, and Why It’s Useful

Ben Stegner 19-06-2018

Using your smartphone in the car has lots of benefits, like playing music and using navigation apps. But it’s important to use it safely, since it comes with potentially deadly distractions.


That’s why Google and Apple have launched Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, respectively. These systems allow you to use your phone in the car safely. In this article, let’s look at Apple CarPlay and see what it can do.

What Is Apple CarPlay?

CarPlay is Apple’s standard that allows you to connect your iPhone to your car and display a simplified iOS-like interface on its infotainment system. This allows you to access certain apps for use in your car. CarPlay relies on Siri quite a bit, allowing you to issue commands without taking your eyes off the road.


While modern cars have a somewhat “smart” interface built in, they’re typically pretty terrible. They’re complicated, the voice assistants are lousy, and they don’t let you use apps on your phone. CarPlay is consistent on any car that supports it, bringing a familiar interface for iOS users.

CarPlay doesn’t replace your manufacturer’s stock system; you can return to it with a tap anytime. And unlike Android Auto, you can’t use CarPlay on your phone’s display. It only works with a compatible car.


What Can Apple CarPlay Do?

With Apple CarPlay, you can access stripped-down functionality for apps on your iPhone that support it. While you could always mount your phone in a car holder The Best Car Phone Holders to Mount Your Android or iPhone A car phone holder lets you keep your phone in view while driving, providing you easy access to GPS, music, and more. Here are the car mounts you should buy. Read More and access it directly, that comes with some drawbacks. Notifications from all your apps could distract you on the road. Plus, the small screen elements of most apps aren’t fit for tapping while driving.

Instead, CarPlay makes it easy to navigate with Maps, respond to messages, listen to music, and get information with Siri. This is made possible thanks to large icons and voice commands.

Apple CarPlay Apps

We’ve previously covered the best Apple CarPlay apps The 10 Best Apple CarPlay Apps for iPhone Apple CarPlay apps make driving better. We've covered ten of the best CarPlay apps for driving for the iPhone. Read More , so I’ll just summarize here. You don’t install apps specifically into CarPlay; instead, apps on your iPhone that are compatible with CarPlay appear when you use it.

CarPlay works with many of the apps built into iOS, including Phone, Messages, Music, and Maps. It also works with several third-party apps, such as iHeart Radio, WhatsApp, Spotify, and Audible.



If you have an Apple Music subscription, you can play any song you like with a quick Siri command. CarPlay supports audiobooks and podcasts, too. To easily jump to the current audio source, tap the Now Playing button.

As of iOS 11, the only navigation app that works with CarPlay is Apple Maps. However, in iOS 12 What's New in iOS 12? 9 Changes and Features to Check Out iOS 12 has arrived. Learn about the exciting new features now available on an iPhone or iPad near you. Read More , you’ll be able to use third-party map apps as well. This means that Google Maps and Waze will soon work with CarPlay.

Apple is more selective about the apps that work with CarPlay than Google is with Android Auto apps. Thus, you’ll likely find that most apps on your iPhone don’t work with CarPlay. Contact the developer of your favorite apps if you’d like to see CarPlay support for them.


How Do I Use Apple CarPlay?

To use CarPlay, you need an iPhone 5 or newer and must live in a supported region. Additionally, you must have Siri turned on for CarPlay to work. Head to Settings > Siri & Search to make sure she’s enabled.

CarPlay also requires a supported vehicle. See the below section for more information on this.

The Basics of Using Apple CarPlay

To access CarPlay, start your car and plug a Lightning cable into your phone and the USB port in your car. This is usually located underneath the climate control panel, or inside the middle compartment. Some cars also support wireless CarPlay, but it’s not common yet. You can head to Settings > General > CarPlay to try pairing in wireless mode.

If CarPlay doesn’t open automatically, tap the CarPlay icon on your infotainment display (its location will vary by manufacturer). For your first time, you’ll see a message on your display to unlock your iPhone. Approve the prompt on your phone, then you’re connected. You’ll see app icons similar to iOS on your car display.



Swipe to access the second page if you have more than eight apps. The left panel holds signal and clock information, as well as quick switchers for your three most recent apps and a virtual Home button. Press that to return to the main screen anytime.

Tap an app browse it on your display. For most apps, this doesn’t offer full functionality. For instance, tapping a conversation in Messages will read it aloud. You’ll need to dictate your response; there’s no keyboard in CarPlay. Some apps disable more functionality if your car is in gear.

To return to your car’s stock system, tap its icon in CarPlay’s list. CarPlay doesn’t manage radio stations, climate control, or other features of your car’s built-in dashboard, so you’ll need to leave it to perform those functions.

You can rearrange the app display by visiting Settings > General > CarPlay and tapping your car’s name.

Using Siri With Apple CarPlay

To summon Siri, press and hold the virtual Home button, or hit the voice button on your steering wheel (if present). From there, you can ask Siri to do pretty much anything you would on your iPhone. This includes using CarPlay apps, such as the following:

  • “Call Josh Brown.”
  • “Play music by Boston.”
  • “Navigate home.”
  • “Text Megan that I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

Though you can’t access the apps in CarPlay, you can also use other Siri commands, like:

  • “Remind me at 8pm tonight to clean the fridge.”
  • “Set an alarm for 7am.”
  • “Add a meeting with Jim to my calendar on May 20 at 10am.”
  • “When does Walgreens close?”

In general, you can use your car’s touchscreen for quick adjustments, but using Siri is both safer and more convenient for most tasks.

Cars Compatible With Apple CarPlay

Almost every vehicle manufacturer offers CarPlay standard or as an option on some of its models. You’ll find it mostly in vehicles from 2016 and newer. With over 400 models, there are too many to list here.

Take a look at Apple’s CarPlay compatibility page to see if yours is supported. Make sure to check the vehicle information for the specific trim you plan on purchasing to confirm it supports CarPlay.

If your car doesn’t support CarPlay, you can purchase an aftermarket model that includes CarPlay. These are typically expensive and require some work to install, so it’s not a great option for everyone.

For those interested, respected audio website Crutchfield has a page of CarPlay compatible receivers. Input your car’s year, make, and model, and it will show you only products compatible with your vehicle.

Start Riding Safely With Apple CarPlay

Apple’s CarPlay is straightforward, and offers a great way to interact with your iPhone in the car. If your car supports it, simply plug in and use driving-friendly apps with easy voice controls. As it grows to support more apps, CarPlay will become even better.

If your vehicle doesn’t support CarPlay, you’ll have to put in a lot of money and work to get it. Thankfully, there are easier (and cheaper) ways to play music from your phone to your car’s stereo How to Play Music From Your Phone to Your Car Stereo Want to play music from your phone to your car's stereo? Here are all your options and how to pick the best way for you. Read More .

Related topics: Automotive Technology, CarPlay, iPhone Tips.

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