What is Apple CarPlay?

If you step into a newer vehicle and suddenly feel like your iPhone has been taken over by the car’s computer system, don’t freak out (like I did). There’s an explanation…

So I was riding as a passenger in a car, minding my own business. Except I wanted to top off the juice in my iPhone. I noticed a USB plug, and I had a Lightning cable with me. So I took the liberty to plug in and power up.

Then my father happened to call me. I put my iPhone up to my ear to talk.

“Hey, Dad! What’s doing?”

To my surprise, I heard my father’s response blare loudly through the car’s speakers!

I wasn’t too keen on publicly sharing our conversation.
(My 84-year-old father can sometimes be a little cranky.)

So I said, “Hold on for a moment, Dad…”

I checked my iPhone’s Wi-Fi connection. Had it somehow paired with the car’s speaker system?
No.

Maybe Bluetooth?
Nope.

Then how the heck was my iPhone connected to this mysterious ‘Car-Net?!’

Plugging into a Strange Car
Of course, I was missing the obvious connection. Remember, I had just jacked in my iPhone with the Lighting cable.

I looked at the cable and yanked it out to sever the connection as if I were taking an ax to a hive of cables powering a massive super computer that had just been hacked.

My iPhone took back its audio, and I had my private chat with my dad.
He needed some ‘tech support’ on how to mute and unmute the ringer on his own iPhone.
(Sigh)

Hello, CarPlay
So what the heck had just happened to me and my trusty iPhone?

Well, if you don’t own a newer model car, you may not know this, but I had simply experienced the iPhone capability called, ‘Apple CarPlay.’

Actually, it’s more about the capability of your car… if it has a built-in touchscreen that can ‘talk’ to your iPhone.
(The presence of a touchscreen does not, in itself, guarantee CarPlay compatibility.)

If your vehicle works with CarPlay, the touchscreen will display certain native iPhone apps like Maps, Phone, Messages, and Music, as well as other apps like Audible, Pandora and Amazon Music.
(It’s an easier and safer way to use your iPhone in the car.)

The apps have been reimagined for your car’s display.
(It’s not a mirror of your iPhone’s screen.)

Your car’s buttons and knobs can also be used, such as when you want to use Siri for voice control.

Newer Cars Only
Again, older wheels can’t play with CarPlay.
I love my older Toyota RAV4, but it only knows how to ‘CarDrive.’

Yes, I’ve got tech envy.
(It was clear there were tech stunts it couldn’t do when I had to MacGyver it to stream music from my iPhone via Bluetooth.)

Most auto manufacturers began integrating CarPlay in 2016 and 2017, and some are still ramping up.
(For example: 2018 for the Subaru Outback and Volvo XC60.)

Plus, CarPlay only works with iPhone 5 or newer models.

Some vehicles support CarPlay via a Lightning USB connection; others can do the trick wirelessly.

Aftermarket Solutions
But all is not lost… There are aftermarket CarPlay systems that you can install in your car’s dashboard. Apple lists Alpine, Carion, Kenwood, Pioneer and Sony for suggested systems.

The price tag ranges from $400 to over $1,000.
Zac Hall from 9to5Mac has this review of his favorites.

Add It to the Shopping List
So if you’re driving, CarPlay is clearly an important upgrade when you want to interface with your iPhone.

But if you’re simply a passenger in someone else’s ride and need to find the nearest USB jack… just remember your iPhone can become something of a more ‘public’ user experience.

Do you see CarPlay in your future…?