Pocket-lint is supported by its readers. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

(Pocket-lint) - Apple CarPlay has been around for several years now but things have moved on significantly in those years, with more and more manufacturers offering compatibility.

This feature gives you a run down of everything Apple CarPlay can do, how it works, what apps are compatible and how to set it up. 

What is Apple CarPlay?

CarPlay is Apple's foray into in-car technology. It puts certain features of your iPhone onto a CarPlay-equipped car's built-in display, allowing drivers to use those features safely when driving.

You can get turn-by-turn directions, make calls, send and receive messages and listen to music without having to touch your iPhone at all. Each app, which includes Apple's stock Phone, Messages, Calender, Music, Maps, Podcasts and Audiobooks apps, as well as some third party apps, have all been redesigned for the car so they can be used while your eyes and hands stay where they should be.

POCKET-LINT VIDEO OF THE DAY
Pocket-lint Apple CarPlay Explored photo 3

At the heart of CarPlay is Apple's personal assistant Siri, enabling you to do tasks such as make a call, dictate and send a message or have a received message read out to you all through voice control. CarPlay can also be controlled with the knobs, dials and buttons in your car though, as well as the touchscreen.

Naturally, CarPlay only supports Apple iPhones and is compatible with models from the iPhone 5 and newer running iOS 7 and above. If you have an Android device, you'll need to read our feature on Android Auto explored instead. 

How to set Apple CarPlay up

Apple CarPlay set up is very simple. You'll need a Lightning cable which you'll need to plug into a USB socket in the front of the car and then into your iPhone, unless you have a car that offers wireless connection, like the BMW 5 Series. The Apple CarPlay icon should then appear on your car's built in display and from here you'll be able to get to the CarPlay interface with a simple tap.

If you're having issues, head into the Settings icon on your iPhone > General > CarPlay. From here, there is a My Cars section where you should see your CarPlay-compatible car appear. You can also press and hold the voice control button on your car's steering wheel to start setup.

Tapping on your car in the list on your iPhone will then offer more settings options. You can choose whether to allow CarPlay to work when your iPhone is locked, as well as select 'Customise' to add and organise how the CarPlay apps appear on your car's display.

Pocket-lint Apple CarPlay Explored photo 14

Tap on the red circle next to an app to add or remove it from your car's display. You can reorder how the apps appear by moving them up and down using the three lines to the right of the app on the list. If you want to switch back to the default order, tap on 'Reset' in the top right of the Customise screen.

When CarPlay first arrived, it wasn't possible to use your iPhone at the same time if it was being used for CarPlay. That changed with iOS 13 in 2019. It's not something we would suggest you do if you are driving, but the latest version of CarPlay allows you to use your iPhone at the same time as you use CarPlay, without changing what's on the car's screen - which would have happened previously.

How to use CarPlay

This section details what some of the various elements of CarPlay offer - including WhatsApp, Google Maps and Messages, as well as how the main interface works.

Interface and controls

Apple CarPlay essentially turns your car's built-in display into a giant iPhone. It's also as intuitive as your iPhone and works in a very familiar way, though not identical to your iPhone. The biggest difference is that only a few of the apps on your iPhone will appear on your car's display through CarPlay.

Only some third party apps are compatible. These include WhatsApp, Amazon Music, Google Play Music, Tidal, Spotify, At Bat, Stitcher, Overcast, Audiobooks.com, Audible, Vox, NPR One, Zoom, Pandora, Clammr and Downcast, Zoom, as well as Google Maps, Waze and TomTom. The only icons you'll see on your car's touchscreen will be Phone, Messages, Apple Music, Apple Maps, Podcasts, Audiobooks, Calendar and any compatible third party apps you have downloaded on your iPhone.

Pocket-lint Apple CarPlay Explored photo 15

You will also see an icon for the manufacturer of your car. Tapping this will take you away from CarPlay and back to your car's main infotainment system, offering access to its navigation option or settings for example.

Along with the screens showing you the apps available, there is an additional menu screen, allowing you to see maps, audio controls, and smart Siri suggestions in one place. This screen gives you an overview and quick access to things you'll need most rather than having to switch between apps, as you had to do when CarPlay first launched.

To access the additional menu screen from the app screen, tap on the icon in the bottom right of the display with the large square and three recatangles. To access the app screens from the menu screen, tap on the icon with all the small squares in the bottom right of the display. You'll notice three recent app icons in the panel on the right of the display too, allowing you to access apps you have previously opened.

Pocket-lint Apple CarPlay Explored photo 6

With Siri suggestions, the dashboard will try and guess what apps you might need before you realise you need them, such as suggesting the Home app when you pull up at your home if you've got a HomeKit-enabled garage door, for example.

Finally, there's a choice between a dark mode and light mode, or automatic. These options can be found in the settings app of CarPlay on your car's display. When set to automatic, CarPlay will automatically detect the time of day and switch between light mode and dark mode accordingly.

Notifications

Certain notifications will appear from your iPhone when connected to CarPlay, such as event alert reminders, new message alerts and of course incoming calls.

Pocket-lint Apple CarPlay Explored photo 17

A pop-up banner will appear at the bottom of any CarPlay app screen when you get a new message, WhatsApp message or event alert through Apple Calendar.

The banner will disappear after a few seconds, as it does on your iPhone, but if you tap it, Siri will ask if you would like it to read the new message or open Maps to launch directions for an upcoming event. If you don't want to receive notifications whilst driving, you can turn on the Do Not Disturb feature on your CarPlay Dashboard through the Settings app.

Calendar

A dedicated Calendar app was introduced to CarPlay in 2019 with iOS 13 so you can see your calendar appointments for the day rather than having to call them in from Siri. You can't see a weekly view, just daily.

Pocket-lint Apple CarPlay Explored photo 5

If any of your appointments for the day have an address in them, you can click on the address to send directly to Apple Maps and get immediate directions.

Making and recieving calls

Being able to make phone calls in the car is nothing new. It's been possible for years thanks to Bluetooth so the Phone section of Apple's CarPlay is perhaps the least exciting. That said, you couldn't possibly have something like CarPlay without the ability to make and receive calls so it's a fundamental part of the system too. 

Pocket-lint Apple CarPlay Explored photo 18

There are several ways to make a phone call using CarPlay, the first of which is to press the voice control button on your steering wheel, after which you can tell Siri to call the name of the person you wish to contact.

Alternatively, you can tap the Phone icon in the CarPlay apps menu. From here, five tabs will appear at the top of the car's touchscreen: Favourites, Recents, Contacts, Keypad, Voicemail. 

Pocket-lint Apple CarPlay Explored photo 10

The tabs replicate what you would see within the same five tabs at the bottom of the Phone app on your iPhone. Therefore, whoever your favourites are on your iPhone will be the same ones that appear on the CarPlay screen. Arrows on the left of the CarPlay screen allow you to scroll and there is also an A-Z button within the Contacts tab that when pressed will pull up each letter of the alphabet on your car's display, allowing for easier searching. Alternatively, you can select the "Ask Siri to Make a Call" option at the top of the Contacts page.

During a call, your car's display will look very similar to how your iPhone screen does during a call, though a few of the options are lacking, such as FaceTime. The name of the person you are talking to appears in the centre of your car's display, with the red circular end call icon and three other circular options comprising mute, keypad and add call.

Sending Messages

Sending and receiving messages is one of the features of CarPlay that is a little more exciting than being able to make and receive calls. Like calling though, there are a couple of ways in which you can compose a new message to someone in your contacts. 

The first is the same as calling in that you can use the voice control button on the steering wheel and tell Siri you want to send a message to the name of the contact you wish to text or Message.

Another option is to press the Messages icon on the CarPlay app menu. You'll see a list of the contacts you have recently sent or received messages from. Again, it looks like your iPhone Messages screen does but the message itself won't be shown beneath the name of the contact and you won't be able to read the last message by clicking on the contacts name either.

Pocket-lint Apple CarPlay Explored photo 8

Instead, tapping on the contact will result in Siri asking you what you want to say in a message to that particular contact, giving you another way of composing a new message. There is also a pen and paper icon in the top right hand corner of this screen that will also pull up the Siri screen asking you who you want to compose a new message to, followed by asking you what you want to say.

Dictate your message to Siri as prompted and when you finish talking, Siri will read back your message and ask if it should send it. You then have the option to send the message as it is, cancel it, or change it in case Siri has misunderstood you, or you have changed your mind about what you want to say.

Sending WhatsApp messages

Apple CarPlay offers support for WhatsApp, though the functionality isn't as accomplished as it is for Messages. When you tap on the WhatsApp app on your car's dashboard, you'll be given three options which consist of Unread Messages, New Message or Call.

When you tap on New Message, Siri will ask who you want to send a WhatsApp message to, followed by what you want your message to say rather than show you the list of your recent chats.

Recieving Messages and WhatsApp messages

When it comes to receiving messages - iMessage, text messages and WhatsApp messages - a banner alert will appear at the bottom of your car's touchscreen when a new message comes through, no matter what CarPlay app you are in.

The banner alert will show the name of the contact the message is from, whether its a message or WhatsApp and a number in a red circle will appear on the main Messages icon or WhatsApp icon too, as it would on your iPhone.

Pocket-lint Apple CarPlay Explored photo 7

You can either directly tap the banner alert as it comes through, or tap the Messages or WhatsApp icon. If you tap on the banner alert, Siri will then say you have a new message from the respective contact and ask if you would like it read to you. If you tap the Messages or WhatsApp icon, Siri will ask if you would like your new messages read or if you would like to compose a new message.

You'll be able to ask Siri to read the message again, as long as you do it straight away, and you'll also be asked if you would like to reply, after which you can dictate your reply. In the case of Messages, three option icons will also appear on the car's touchscreen, comprising call, read again and reply. For WhatsApp messages, three option icons appear: Read again, Reply and Don't Reply.

Apple Maps Navigation

Apple CarPlay offers navigation through Apple Maps, Google Maps, Waze, TomTom and Sygic - more on Waze and Google Maps in a minute. Apple Maps through CarPlay works in a similar way to Apple Maps on your iPhone in that it pulls in information from where it can, such as events in your Apple calendar, emails, contacts and messages.

Pocket-lint