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What is Apple CarPlay?

Our guide fully explains what Apple CarPlay is, including which cars support the service and its best features

Words ByDarren Moss

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Apple CarPlay was released in 2014 and allows drivers to access the phone, messaging, audio and navigation features of their iPhones from their car, without taking their hands off the steering wheel.

With fines for using your phone while at the wheel increasing, more drivers are connecting their phones to cars using Apple CarPlay, or the alternative Android Auto or MirrorLink systems.

What is Apple CarPlay?

Apple CarPlay is a system that allows you to view content from your iPhone on your car’s infotainment screen. It also means you can make calls, listen to music, use sat-nav and dictate text messages on your iPhone without taking your hands off the steering wheel.

Users connect their iPhone to the car using a USB port, although it’s likely that connections using Bluetooth or wi-fi will be available in the future.

As well as Apple’s own phone, messaging, iTunes and maps apps, third-party apps including Spotify, Audible and Stitcher are currently supported, with that list expected to grow as the technology develops.

Drivers control Apple CarPlay in the same way as they would the car’s own infotainment system, by using buttons, rotary dials and a touchscreen if fitted. As well as this, Apple’s Siri service allows drivers to issue voice commands, including dictating messages to be sent via the iPhone. The system can also read incoming messages.

Which cars support Apple CarPlay?

Apple CarPlay is available on more than 100 different car models from 40 brands including Audi, BMW, CitroΓ«n, Fiat, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Kia, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Peugeot, Porsche, Renault, Seat, Skoda, Toyota, Vauxhall Volkswagen and Volvo.

Among the cars which feature Apple CarPlay functionality are the new BMW 5 Series, which we crowned as our 2017 Car of of the Year back in January, as well as other What Car? Award winners:

Can I add Apple CarPlay to an older car?

Yes, you can buy aftermarket units which will allow you to enjoy Apple CarPlay functionality in an older vehicle. Suppliers including Alpine, Kenwood and Pioneer all sell units, with prices starting from around Β£330, but you may also need to budget in getting a retailer or professional to fit these for you.

Will my phone support Apple CarPlay?

Apple CarPlay is available on any iPhone which comes with a β€˜lightning’ charging cable. That means the following phones can use the service:

  • iPhone SE
  • iPhone 5
  • iPhone 5C
  • iPhone 5S
  • iPhone 6
  • iPhone 6 Plus
  • iPhone 6S
  • iPhone 6S Plus
  • iPhone 7
  • iPhone 7 Plus

Expect future versions of the iPhone to support Apple CarPlay, too. To use Apple CarPlay, your iPhone must be running the iOS 7 operation system or newer.

How do I start Apple CarPlay?

To use Apple CarPlay, connect your lightning charging cable to your phone, and then into a USB port on your car. A message should appear asking if you want to start Apple CarPlay. Selecting 'Yes' will then start the service.

Are there any alternatives?

There are three main systems for connecting mobile phones to cars. Apple CarPlay is perhaps the most well known, but owners of phones using the Android operating system have a similar service in the form of Android Auto.

Android Auto offers very similar functionality to Apple CarPlay, including navigation, audio and messaging elements, and was launched in 2014. A third service, MirrorLink, is also offered for Android smartphones and does not currently support iPhones.

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