What is Apple CarPlay?

Bring your iPhone display onto the dashboard with Apple CarPlay

BuyaCar team
Mar 1, 2017

Increasingly fitted to the latest cars, Apple CarPlay is software installed on your vehicle’s dashboard screen. It’s launched when you plug an iPhone into your vehicle’s USB socket, giving you the option to have the phone’s app tiles displayed on your screen - like a larger, clearer version of your phone screen.

You can use these tiles to operate certain apps, allowing you to navigate using Maps, play tunes through your Music app, and make phone calls.

It’s also possible to access text messages, and have them read you to you as they are received. You can dictate and send messages with voice control.

CarPlay automatically uses Apple’s Siri voice recognition assistant. This can be a big improvement to the limited functionality offered by some manufacturers, and is activated by pressing your car's voice control button.



How can I tell if a car has Apple CarPlay?

There’s no Apple logo on the boot or the dashboard itself and the software lies dormant until you plug your phone in.

When you do connect your phone, it will normally display a message asking for permission to activate CarPlay if the vehicle has the software fitted. If you want to check before you buy a vehicle, then you can check Apple’s list of vehicles with CarPlay.

However, it’s best to check the precise specification of the car you’re looking at, because it’s often offered as an option.

See the latest new and used car deals


What features does Apple CarPlay have?

The features are really limited by the number of apps that work with CarPlay. Most of your phone’s apps will not be displayed in the car. Games, for example, are thought too distracting to be played on the dashboard.

  • The Phone app is shown as standard. You can scroll through your contacts and dial a number on screen, or use voice control to make a call. New voicemails are shown as alerts and can be played back to you.
  • The Messages app will alert you when a new text arrives, giving you the option to have it read out. You can reply (or send a new message) by dictating through Siri. It will be read back to you before being sent.
  • Apple's Maps app will work as a sat-nav, giving you turn-by-turn directions, avoiding traffic jams and highlighting useful destinations, just as it would on your phone. This will use some of your data allowance.
  • Music streaming is available through Apple's Music app, which allows you to select playlists, albums, artists and songs. However, the images and text are much larger, so it can be time-consuming to manually scroll through each one. The app works much better with voice control, when you dictate what you want to listen to, and is much less distracting. You can also stream using Spotify, one of the third-party apps that is supported.
  • Other apps supported by CarPlay include Apple's Podcasts and Audiobooks 


Which phones are compatible with CarPlay?

The iPhone 5 is the oldest version of Apple’s smartphone to work with CarPlay. All of the iPhones released since then are also compatible.


What if I don't want to use Apple CarPlay?

You don't have to. Every manufacturer fits standard software to their vehicles. This is what you see when you start the car. If you choose not to use CarPlay when you plug in your iPhone, then you'll still be able to stream music or make handsfree calls using the vehicle's software.

Even if you do opt to use CarPlay, then the manufacturer software is just a button click away. Typically, you just need to press one of the function buttons, such as Radio, Media or Nav, to close the CarPlay display and bring back the original one. In that case, there's usually a CarPlay menu option that allows you to switch back to the Apple display.

If your car is fitted with sat-nav, then you'll be able to choose to use the vehicle's system or Apple's Maps: it just depends which one you prefer.

Both systems work together, so you can navigate with the car's sat-nav and stream music through CarPlay by switching between CarPlay and your vehicle's software. Some cars - like the Volvo XC90 (below) - make this simpler by displaying a split-screen. By showing CarPlay on one part and the car's own software on the other, you can see directions from Volvo's sat-nav and display song information from Apple's Music app at the same time.


Do Android phones work in cars with Apple CarPlay?

CarPlay doesn’t replace the car manufacturer’s software, so you can still pair any phone and make handsfree calls or stream music without using CarPlay.


Does Apple CarPlay work with a wireless Bluetooth connection?

The first vehicles with CarPlay required you to plug your phone in with a lead, but the first wireless systems are starting to appear. The new BMW 5 Series is the first car to offer CarPlay over a wireless connection. Third party stereos that can be fitted to your car are also starting to offer the feature.


Is Apple CarPlay safe?

Road safety organisations continue to advise drivers to keep their eyes on the road, and avoid any unnecessary distractions, which would include composing a text message from behind the wheel - even if it is done with voice control.

The system has been designed with safety in mind - which is why you’re only allowed to use a limited number of apps, the symbols are large and voice control is the easiest way of carrying out many functions.

Most of the apps are relatively uncontroversial too - relating to navigation, music and audiobooks.

However, there is increasing evidence that making handsfree calls can be distracting. And although the CarPlay system is legal because it doesn’t require you to hold your phone while driving, you can still be prosecuted for not being in proper control of the vehicle if the police think you’re distracted from driving.


Can I add Apple CarPlay to my vehicle?

Yes. The software is fitted to several aftermarket devices that allow you to upgrade your car and its music system to the very latest technology.

Alpine, Kenwood and Pioneer make systems with CarPlay technology.

Find more ways of upgrading your used car



Read more about:

Latest jargon busters

  1. What is PCP?

  2. What is AEB?

  3. What is a Category S car?

What our customers say