Apple CarPlay: What It Is and How To Connect To It

Connect your iPhone to your car with these simple steps

CarPlay is a feature of the iPhone that allows the iPhone to take over a car's infotainment system. For those with older cars, the infotainment system is the tablet-sized screen that usually controls the radio and climate control systems.

With CarPlay, you don't need to worry about the manufacturer's infotainment system being hard to use or becoming obsolete. You'll be able to make calls, control your music and even get turn-by-turn directions using your iPhone as the brains of the operation. Not all cars support CarPlay natively, and CarPlay and Apple maintains a list of car models that support CarPlay.

It's possible to upgrade some cars with a third-party infotainment system that supports CarPlay.

CarPlay Allows You To Control Your iPhone Without Touching Your iPhone

CarPlay in a Ford Mustang. Ford Motor Company

This really isn't anything new. We've been controlling our iPhone with Siri for a while now. But it is especially important when it comes our cars. CarPlay and Siri allow you to place phone calls, listen to text messages or play your favorite playlist without ever touching your iPhone. Better, you can get turn-by-turn directions and have them displayed on the infotainment system's larger screen, which is already positioned to make it easy for the driver to glance at while driving.

Cars that support CarPlay have a button on the steering wheel to activate Siri. This makes it easy to ask her to 'Call Mom' or 'Text Jerry'. (And yes, you actually can give your mother the nickname of 'mom' in your iPhone's contacts and use it for voice commands!)

The infotainment system that displays CarPlay is a touch screen, so you can also operate CarPlay using touch without fumbling with your phone. Generally, you should be able to do most operations without touching the display, but if you want to enlarge the map displayed with the turn-by-turn directions, a quick touch on the screen can do so.

How to Start Using CarPlay in Your Car

Connecting to CarPlay can be as simple as plugging it into the infotainment system. General Motors

This is where it gets very easy. Most cars will allow you to simply plug your phone into the infotainment system using the Lightning connector supplied with the iPhone. This is the same connector you use to charge the device. If CarPlay doesn't come up automatically, a button labeled CarPlay should appear in the infotainment system's menu allowing you to switch to CarPlay. Because CarPlay doesn't operate the car's radio or other controls like the climate control system, you have the ability to switch back and forth between CarPlay and the default infotainment system.

Some newer cars can also use Bluetooth for CarPlay. It's generally better to plug your iPhone into the system simply because it will charge your iPhone at the same time rather than drain the battery, but for quick trips, using Bluetooth can be handy. Before you can use Bluetooth for CarPlay, you will need to follow the car infotainment system's directions for connecting the iPhone to it via Bluetooth.  

Here are a few important tips for using CarPlay:

  • The left side of the screen is a menu that will give you quick access to important apps even when you have an app already loaded. It also has a Home button at the bottom of the menu that operates similar to the Home button below the display on your iPhone. Tapping this button will take you back to the main menu.
  • One of the apps on the main screen is named after the car you drive (Kia, Ford, etc.). This button will take you back to your infotainment system's menu. 
  • The steering wheel buttons for controlling music for your car's radio should also work with CarPlay when you are listening to music, so there is no need to touch the screen to skip a song.
  • You can still use your iPhone while CarPlay is engaged. The iPhone operates both independently and tied into CarPlay. If you launch a CarPlay app on your iPhone, it will also open on the CarPlay screen. But you can have Apple Maps on CarPlay and browse the web on your iPhone. Obviously, this shouldn't be done while driving, but it's great for those times when you start your car and engage CarPlay and then you remember you have no idea where you are going!
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