What is Apple CarPlay and where can you get it?

Apple has officially begun its foray into in-car technology and the infotainment space by unveiling a product called CarPlay. It connects a supported vehicle to a compatible iPhone, enabling uninterrupted access to and interaction with Apple's ecosystem directly through a dashboard touchscreen.

Premiered at the Geneva International Motor Show, the CarPlay system extends the usage of Apple's iPhone and further hooks iOS users into Apple's software and app ecosystem. You see, most people are chained to their smartphones. Until they enter a vehicle, anyway. Suddenly, the vehicle's in-car technology takes premise over the iPhone, and Apple certainly doesn't want that.

So, with CarPlay, Apple has implemented a way for vehicle infotainment systems to focus on the iPhone. People will now have constant and direct access to Apple's goods - such as Siri, Maps, and iTunes Radio - wherever they go, making it even harder for them to switch to competing platforms.

What is CarPlay?

CarPlay is - simply put - a streamlined way to connect an iPhone to your car’s infotainment system, letting you access smartphone functions like music, messaging, calls, navigation, etc.

Which vehicles support CarPlay?

The first vehicles to support CarPlay will debut at the Geneva Motor Show, and they'll include car models from Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo. A broad range of vehicles from other automakers will soon follow. BMW, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Land Rover, Kia, Peugeot, Citroën, Subaru, Suzuki, Toyota, Mitsubishi, and Nissan are a few of the big names expected to integrate CarPay into upcoming vehicles.

Check out Volvo's promo video about CarPlay below:

Which iPhones support CarPlay?

At launch, Apple has limited CarPlay to iPhones with Lightning connectors (such as the iPhone 6, iPhone 5, iPhone 5S, and iPhone 5C). CarPlay functionality works on iPhones with iOS 7 or newer. 

Pioneer launched its CarPlay system on 2 October that will work via a simple update.

How does CarPlay work?

Similar to any car with an iPod or iPhone connection, vehicles equipped with CarPlay will sync to your iPhone via the Lightning Connector. CarPlay will then pull data directly from your iPhone, simultaneously charging it, and allow you to control and interact with your iPhone through your vehicle.

The steering wheel of CarPlay-enabled vehicles will sport a dedicated voice-control button, though CarPlay's main appeal-factor will shine through the electronic equipment and touchscreen interface mounted in your dashboard. You can use traditional buttons and dials in the vehicle to interact with your iPhone, as well as touch and voice controls.

What can CarPlay do?

Siri

After you connect your iPhone to any CarPlay-enabled vehicle, Siri - Apple's voice assistance in iOS - will help you do a number of things including access your contacts, make calls, return missed calls, listen to voicemails, and more.

In the following description, Apple detailed exactly how Siri will work with CarPlay integration: "When incoming messages or notifications arrive, Siri provides an eyes-free experience by responding to requests through voice commands, by reading drivers’ messages and letting them dictate responses or simply make a call."

Music

CarPlay will stream music, podcasts, audiobooks, and iTunes Radio from your iPhone and through your car's stereo, and it'll even let you access music and other audio content through third-party apps like Spotify and iHeartRadio. You can bring up tracks manually with built-in controls or via Siri with a related voice command.

Navigation

CarPlay taps into Apple’s mapping service, so you can see destinations based on recent trips, addresses pulled from contacts, as well as view traffic conditions and estimated time of arrival. And finally, you can also get turn-by-turn directions. These will appear in your car's dashboard screen. Just use Siri to plot routes and get directions via voice commands, and she'll talk back to you and provide audible turn-by-turn directions.

Any alternatives to CarPlay?

Apple isn't being too innovative with CarPlay, because there are many infotainment system alternatives in existence.

Google, for instance, launched an Android-based car system earlier this year called the Open Automotive Alliance. It works with vehicles from Audi, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, etc. Microsoft also has Microsoft Sync, though its voice control functionality isn't as deep as CarPlay or OAA. Sync, which launched in 2007, is widely available in many vehicles - including most of Ford’s current lineup.