For those of you that are not aware, Apple has a piece of software called CarPlay; and CarPlay lives on all lightning port equipped iPhones that when plugged into a supported car, will display on the in-dash touch screen. CarPlay is becoming standard on most 2016 vehicles so that leaves a large percentage of iPhone users out in the cold because, most people are not buying a new car for convenient software. So what about the rest of us? Luckily, if your car has a large enough radio port you can purchase an aftermarket radio that has CarPlay support. I recently upgraded my 1994 Buick Park Avenue with a 2012 Chevy Impala and I made sure one of these aftermarket CarPlay radios would work with it. I took a 2 week long road trip with my new car and put CarPlay through all the tests and got to know the software fairly well. From the outset I totally fell in love with CarPlay however; that being said it is not without its flaws. So without too much more rambling lets dive right into The Apple Post’s CarPlay review!
Let’s start off by talking about the design of CarPlay. As shown above, similar to the iPhone you have a home screen with an array of app icons, the home screen also supports multiple pages therefor you have the ability to use 3rd party applications. The home screen also has a status bar which for American vehicles lives on the left and side of the screen and for countries that drive on the right hand side of the road, such as the UK, it can be set to display on the right of the screen. – Apple wanted the Status Bar to be as close to the driver as possible so they could easily reach the Home Button. – Personally, I would like it if there was an easier way of switching applications; I found myself always jumping in and out of applications, that’s not necessarily a bad thing but sometimes I just needed to pick a new song but keep Maps open however, that being said, if you have navigation running and hop into another application it will display the Maps icon at the top of the Status Bar.
As for the CarPlay software itself, Phone, Music, Maps, Messages, Now Playing, Podcasts, Audiobooks, and an icon for the car’s software are all available from the moment the iPhone is plugged in.
Phone: When the user taps the Phone icon it will automatically launch Siri who responds, “Who would you like to call?” via the built-in car speakers. If you do not wish to call anybody, you can tap cancel and it will return to the Phone application where the user can access favourites, recents, contacts, and voicemail. In my experience, calls sounded crisp and clear through my cars speakers and people on the other end of the call said my voice sounded lean with the microphone I had installed. – When receiving a call, the call will overtake the entire display with the phone number calling (or the person if they are in your address book) and 2 buttons for answering and declining. I personally had an instance where I missed my turn because when I received an incoming call, my navigation instructions were obstructed by the incoming call pop-up on screen. – It is also worth mentioning that FaceTime Audio calls work on CarPlay.
Music: Music is probably one of the main reasons you would use CarPlay. If you are an Apple Music subscriber you can have access to ‘For You’, New, Radio, Playlists, and ‘My Music’. Everything is in a list view so there’s a lot of scrolling involved which might not be the best thing if your eyes are on the road. There is a bar on the right that allows you to pick out which letter you would like to jump to but it’s still pretty distracting. For the most part I liked using the Radio function. I’m not the biggest Beats 1 fan because it mostly plays Rap and Hip Hop but I love the genre radios. The music player is very clean. All the buttons are clearly displayed and well spaced out however, taking your eyes off the road and using your hand to scroll through your music isn’t always the easiest of tasks; especially when you’re jolted by bumps in the road.
Maps: Possibly the killer app of CarPlay, Maps in short is wonderful; hands down the best navigation system I have ever used in an in-dash screen. It still has all the flaws of Apple Maps (which they are resolving) but it is free unlike every single other navigation system. Since most cars displays do not have multi-touch, there are 2 buttons to zoom in and out. There is also buttons for current location and 3D mode.
Unfortunately it does not show the 3D buildings like on the iPhone version but it does show the horizon line as you drive which somehow makes it feel more natural. There is also a Designations button which takes you to a menu where you can pick out different locations that are close to you such as gas stations or restaurants. Another neat thing in Destinations is that Home and Work are always at the top of the list so you can easily get back home. If someone sends you an address in a text message it will automatically be added to the Destinations list, It will also intelligently detect if you have gone to the store and will prompt you for directions back home.
Picking out a destination is pretty easy; most of the time you can just speak into Siri and he or she (depending on the country) will find it but if Siri cannot find where you want to go, alternatively there is a keyboard which allows you to manually enter your destination. – To my knowledge this is the only keyboard on CarPlay. – It is very distracting to type on this keyboard so I do not recommend doing it while you drive. That being said, it’s really nice to just key in a few characters and have it pop up. Navigation on Maps is really slick too, it works exactly how it should. I am used to using my iPhone for navigation and this operates almost exactly the same.
Siri is nice and clear over the car’s speakers as it dictates the next turn. I like how navigation has a status screen on the next turn, ETA, number of hours left, and the total miles for the trip. While navigation is running it will display which direction you are facing in the top of the Status Bar. I have found this to be really useful. One complaint I have about navigation is that while in transit the top bar for Maps will automatically hide (to make room on the screen for the map). Every time it happened I thought I had missed a notification because it animates just like a notification dismissing itself so, I found myself often going back to the home screen to check out my missed notifications.
Messages: Messages acts very similar to the Phone app, when you press on the icon it will automatically prompt Siri who responds, “Who are we texting?” and just like the Phone you can press cancel to return to a familiar Messages screen. The most common question as a CarPlay user I’m asked is; “Can you type a message?” and that is a NO! Just like watchOS, CarPlay requires that all texting be done through Siri. Texting is very easy though CarPlay but it is not without it’s flaws and those flaws are all with Siri however, we will get to that in the Siri section. The Messages application displays a list of all your recent message senders, it does not display any of the message’s body. – There is also a compose button which takes you back to Siri.
Now Playing: When you tap on ‘Now Playing’ it takes you to the application that is currently playing audio such as Music or Podcasts and even 3rd Party applications.
Podcasts: Podcasts is great! I listen to podcasts primarily in the car especially the fantastic Your Geek Needs podcast, what a great show! Okay that’s enough self promotion for one TAP article. You can search for new podcasts (which i’m fine with) so you are restricted to podcasts you have already subscribed to or downloaded.
Audiobooks: I didn’t have a chance to test out Audiobooks (because I am an Audible user). Audiobooks are stored in the iBooks application and I can only assume they function just like any other audio playback.
As for 3rd party software I tested MLB At Bat, Audible, CBS News Radio, and NPR. They all pretty much function the same. To my knowledge the developers are restricted to using list view so all your content is displayed as a list. This is great for audio applications but I want to see more dynamic 3rd party applications like Google Maps and Waze! The one major problem I had with all 3rd party applications was that if I wanted to access data in the app (you know, to use it..) you had to unlock the iPhone to allow the CarPlay application to load. This needs to be fixed in the next release of iOS.
The way a user interacts with CarPlay is mainly through Siri and for an eyes free experience that is really nice, when it works… Siri on CarPlay may be the worst at understanding me and I don’t know if that is a software or hardware issue; surely it can’t be the hardware. I have a feeling that iOS 10’s version of CarPlay will improve many of Siri’s issues. On some occasions it took me 4 attempts to send a text, not good while driving! Most of the time Siri would mis-dictate my messages leaving my recipients clueless however, when Siri worked It was magical. Having a car which I could talk to and talk back to me is incredible, it’s like driving a Transformer! Siri can be activated through the Messages and Phone applications as mentioned before, Siri can also be activated by holding the Home Button and by saying “Hey Siri” if you have that enabled on the connected iPhone. Siri can also do most of the functions that Siri on your iPhone can preform such as dictating a note or setting a reminder. When you are not using Siri you are interacting with CarPlay through touch; the virtual buttons from my experience are all spaced far enough away so I could blindly press them without pressing something I didn’t want to. I can’t speak for all CarPlay displays but the capacitive pioneer display I have works very well.
Notifications on CarPlay work the same way they do on iOS. A banner will drop down from the top of the screen and display the application icon and what it’s notifying you of. Notifications will play a sound unless your iPhone is on silent mode. As an example, if you press on a Messages notification Siri will overtake the screen and dictate the message. Then Siri will give you the option of responding. CarPlay will not display all of your iPhone’s notifications so you won’t be responding to a Twitter notification for example. That being said if you receive a Reminder’s notification you can Ignore, choose ‘Remind me in 5 minutes’ or ‘Remind me in 1 hour’; this is pretty handy for me because I use Reminders a lot! – My only complaint with Notifications is that while you have navigation turned on and you return to the Home Screen, it will immediately display a Maps notification. This is really annoying because I usually just return to the Home Screen to check my notifications for other applications but the Maps notification obstructs half of the icons and covers up the Phone and Message’s notification badge. Along with that, since the Maps’ notification covers up half of the top row of icons, I often found myself tapping the notification banner while trying to open Music or any other top row application. This is a bad thing because it takes around 10 seconds to dismiss and can be distracting while driving. CarPlay does not allow you to move applications around so what you see is what you get. I wish that you could swipe up on a notification to dismiss it like on iOS and MacOS.
A fun thing I have noticed that my iPhone now knows when I am in the car so I can drive to the grocery store and my iPhone will automatically give me a Maps notification to drive back to where I was such as home. While reading this review you may have noticed that I have included screenshots of CarPlay. I was not aware that CarPlay could take screenshots until I accidentally took a screenshot on my iPhone while connected to my car. It’s as simple as that, when you take a screenshot on your iPhone it will take a screenshot on CarPlay (assuming that your iPhone is plugged into your car). It’s also worth mentioning that if your iPhone is connected to your car but the display is running the car’s original software on the screen, CarPlay is still running in the background so if you take a screenshot it will also take a CarPlay screenshot.
Let’s take a moment and explain how CarPlay works. It works very similar to having a remote control for your iPhone that is designed differently. So if you have your iPhone’s screen on and it’s connected to CarPlay, you can open an app on CarPlay and it will open it on your iPhone. So CarPlay is just basically a your iPhone running on your in dash display only it looks different. CarPlay itself is not an operating system. It is iOS with a different user interface. That being said it is a platform that can run 3rd party applications but those applications are also running on your iPhone. It is kind confusing but for the average person they don’t need to understand how it works, they just want to use it. As far as updates are concerned, you don’t need to buy new hardware for future CarPlay updates. The in-dash screen just displays CarPlay so if Apple wants to update CarPlay you just have to update your iPhone’s software. This is great because people are not going to put up with buying a new car just to have an up-to-date CarPlay well, I might because I’m insane but the average person won’t. So if CarPlay is ever restricted by hardware you just have to purchase a new iPhone. CarPlay is also well integrated in the car’s original in-dash software. So I am using a Pioneer AppRadio 4 which has an audio app already. So you can pair up your iPhone via Bluetooth or plug in an iPod (or MP3 player) and it will display album art and other song data. If you are listening to music in the Music app on CarPlay and return to the original in-dash software it will be playing in it’s audio app. This is nice so you can have many options to interact with your media. Another neat thing is that my Pioneer has back and forward buttons for music on the side of the screen and those interact with CarPlay. CarPlay is a great version 1 piece of software with tons of room for improvement. I am really happy with it so far and it is absolutely the best way I have ever interacted with a car’s in-dash display.