Hands-on: Apple CarPlay review

Apple CarPlay is the tech giant's foray into in-car technology, which has been propelled into the public interest at the Geneva Motor Show 2014. And that's exactly where we've had the chance to take a look at it in action.

But not at the Cupertino company's own stall to show off its wares, because Apple doesn't exhibit at the Geneva Show. Instead it was in Volvo's Concept Estate that we got our first experience of the technology which enables interaction with Apple's ecosystem directly through a dashboard touchscreen.

READ: Volvo Concept Estate pictures and hands-on

We’ll get the disappointment out of the way straight off: we found out precious little information that we don’t already know about Apple’s integration into the car. But there are plenty of interesting nuggets we did discover. CarPlay will work in parallel to manufacturers' own systems, for example. You won't be able to retro-fit it to the company’s old vehicles as far as we've been told. Oh, and from a mapping point of view, Apple's interface uses Apple Maps only for now. Which means you might still wish to add a manufacturer's own system if you fancy not getting lost. Yeah, we said it.

Here’s how it all works in the forthcoming Volvo XC90 that we saw CarPlay in: the new 10.3-inch portrait-format centre screen has been designed around four primary "tiles". It’s almost got a Windows Phone style approach to the layout of the homescreen, divided into four bands: navigation, media, phone and CarPlay.

From the base of the screen you can drag up the climate controls to adjust temperature, switch your heated seat on and that kind of thing, while the top bar has an ever-present time display, phone signal strength and battery life and, in this instance, a central Volvo logo to act as the return-to-home screen button.

Press on any of the horizontal tiles and it will expand out. What was interesting here is that in the case of Volvo one of its three tiles is dedicated to its own navigation - when in CarPlay you can of course just use Apple Maps. However, it’s clear the company thinks you might want to do this because, well, it’s not Apple Maps, but also because it talks natively to the driver cluster and head-up display (HUD) - pulling through turn-by-turn instructions. According to Volvo, if you run Apple Maps through CarPlay on the system, it can’t throw things into the HUD.

But what of CarPlay itself? Well, it’s as you might expect. Tap on the bottom of the four tiles for CarPlay and it brings up the familiar Apple icon selection to include Phone, Music, Maps, Messages, Now Playing and Podcasts. But we can't tell you any more than that just yet because Apple has locked it down.

But what we do find intriguing is that it runs very much in parallel - or complementary to - the car manufacturer's own system, rather than taking over the entire real estate and creating a situation where you’ll just be using an Apple interface.

Perhaps that’s a deliberate move on the part of the car brand, which perhaps unsurprisingly isn't so keen to give over all its screens to the boys from Cupertino. And for some, what we’re saying might suggest that CarPlay isn’t going to be the in-car panacea many have suggested.

But it does nonetheless look familiar, slick and entirely well integrated. In time, we’re sure that it could take over car manufacturers' own in-car setups for the better. If, that is, you're an Apple user.

We look forward to trying out CarPlay on the road in the near future. 



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