Everything You Need to Know About Apple CarPlay

An Apple CarPlay screen is seen in a Mercedes-Benz car during the press day of the 84th International Motor Show
An Apple CarPlay screen is seen in a Mercedes-Benz car during the press day of the 84th International Motor Show. Harold Cunningham/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Our iPhones spend a lot of time in the car with us. Whether it’s because we’re using them to make calls, get directions, listen to music or podcasts, or use apps (only when we’re not driving, of course!), iOS devices are common traveling companions and are rapidly becoming a regular part of driving.

CarPlay (formerly known a iOS in the Car), is a feature of the iOS—the operating system for the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad—that is designed to integrate those devices even more tightly with our cars. Here’s what you need to know about it.

What Is CarPlay?

CarPlay is a feature of the iOS that tightly integrates your iPhone with the in-dash display in certain cars. With it, some iPhone apps appear on your car's display. You can then control the app using the in-dash touchscreen, Siri and your car's audio system.

What Apps Does It Support?

You can also customize CarPlay to include apps that appeal to your specific tastes. Support for new apps is added regularly (and without much announcement). A partial list of apps that currently support CarPlay includes:  

  • Apps Built Into iOS: Maps, Music, Messages, Siri, Podcasts, and Phone
  • Third Party: iHeartRadio, MLB At Bat, Spotify, Stitcher, CBS Radio, and Overcast.

For more on CarPlay apps, check out this round-up of the best Apple CarPlay apps.

Does It Support Third-Party Apps?

Yes, as noted above. CarPlay support can be added to apps by the apps' developers, so new compatible apps are being released all the time.

Does It Require an iOS Device?

Yes. In order to use CarPlay, you'll need an iPhone 5 or newer.

What version of the iOS does it require?

CarPlay was enabled in the iOS starting with iOS 7.1, introduced in March 2014. Every version of the iOS 7.1 and higher includes CarPlay.

What Else Does It Require?

Just having an iPhone 5 or newer running iOS 7 or higher isn't enough. You'll also need a car that has an in-dashboard display and that supports CarPlay. CarPlay is standard on some models and an option on others, so you have to make sure the car you want to use it in has the feature enabled.

What Car Companies Support It?

When it was first announced in June 2013, Acura, Chevrolet, Ferrari, Honda, Hyundai, Infiniti, Jaguar, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Opel, and Volvo pledged their support for the technology.

Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo were expected to have the first compatible cars on the market. Those models were scheduled to go on sale in mid-2014, with Honda, Hyundai, and Jaguar to follow later in 2014. However, not many cars offering CarPlay actually ended up being available in 2014. 

In March 2015, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced that 40 new car models would ship with CarPlay support in 2015. He did not detail what manufacturers or models would offer the support.

As of early 2017, hundreds of models from dozens of car companies offer CarPlay. To learn which ones, check out this list from Apple.

How Does This Compare to Companies Supporting Siri Eyes Free?

Apple has previously released a car-specific feature of Siri, called Eyes Free. This was supported by Audi, BMW, Chrysler, GM, Honda, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes, and Toyota. Siri Eyes Free was designed to allow a user to connect their iPhone to their car, press a microphone button, and then speak to Siri to control their phone. It was essentially a way to connect Siri to the car's stereo.

It is much simpler and less powerful than CarPlay. Eyes Free does not support apps (other than those that already work with Siri) or touchscreens.

Are There Aftermarket Systems Compatible With CarPlay?

Yes. If you don't want to buy a new car to get CarPlay, you can buy aftermarket devices from Alpine and Pioneer, among other manufacturers, to replace the in-dash system in your current car (though not all cars will be compatible, of course).

Need help figuring out which aftermarket CarPlay unit is best for you? Check out this rundown of the specs of all current models.

How Do You Connect Your Device to It?

Originally, CarPlay required that you connect your iPhone to your car via Lightning cable plugged into your car's USB port or phone adapter. That option is still available.

However, as of iOS 9, CarPlay can also be wireless. If you have a head unit that supports wireless CarPlay, you can connect your iPhone via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi and skip the plugs.

How Do You Use It?

A combination of spoken commands via Siri and the in-dash display's touchscreen are the primary means of control. When you plug your iPhone into a CarPlay-compatible car, you must activate the CarPlay app on your in-dash system. Once that's done, you'll be able to use the apps.

What Does It Cost?

Because CarPlay is already a feature of the iOS, the only cost for getting/using it is the cost of buying a car with it or buying an aftermarket unit and getting it installed.