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What is Apple CarPlay and what does it do?

Using your smartphone while driving isn't a great idea, and we've seen historically that telling people not to do it and even threatening them with big tickets hasn't stopped them. Since people won't stop interacting with their phones in the car, in 2014 Apple came up with a way to connect an iPhone (Android users can use Google's Android Auto in a similar manner) to a car to keep your eyes on the road while still staying connected, and it's a method that's both safer and more convenient due to its hands-free driving usability. It's called Apple CarPlay and it will do everything from read your texts for you to help you get where you’re going. Here's a simple beginners guide to Apple CarPlay with all the information you need to stay hands-free while driving.

When did Apple CarPlay debut?

Apple CarPlay was announced to the public at the Geneva Motor Show in 2014 with Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo signed on as the first manufacturers to adopt the standard. The first vehicle to hit the market with a full implementation of CarPlay was the 2014 Ferrari FF. From there, it spread to more affordable models from a whole host of manufacturers such as Hyundai, VW, Chevrolet, Honda and Ford.

What cars are compatible with Apple CarPlay?

As of November 2023, all car brands sold in the U.S. offer CarPlay except for two: Rivian and Tesla.

General Motors, meanwhile, announced plans to phase out CarPlay in its EVs, which we're seeing first in the 2024 Chevrolet Blazer EV. General Motors claims that vehicles which shipped with CarPlay from new won't have it disabled by future vehicle updates.

As to what older cars use CarPlay, Apple has a handy list that will tell you definitively if your specific model of vehicle came with Apple CarPlay integration.

How does Apple CarPlay work?

To get a little technical, Apple CarPlay is a standard created by Apple that allows a vehicle's infotainment system to mirror your phone. This means that many apps that you know and use every day like Maps, Podcasts, Spotify, Messages can be used without needing to touch your actual phone and it also means you're not at the mercy of factory systems which can vary considerably in ease of use and general responsiveness.

Apple CarPlay’s best features

  • Light mode/dark mode: CarPlay will automatically switch between a light mode and a dark mode in your vehicle based on whether your headlights are on, but if you want to force it to stay in one mode until you change it, you can.

  • Dashboard view: Usually, CarPlay’s display shows you what a single app at a time is doing, but you can also swipe right from the main screen to access “dashboard mode” which will display several apps at once. We use this all the time.

  • Navigation alerts to your Apple Watch: If you have an Apple Watch connected to your phone and that phone is currently running CarPlay and either Apple Maps or Google Maps, it will send directions and alerts to your watch to make sure you don’t miss that next turn.

  • Remembering where you parked: Apple Maps and Google Maps will both drop a pin automatically if you park your car and disconnect your phone. It makes finding your car again super easy.

How do I enable Apple CarPlay?

As of 2023, CarPlay comes in two flavors: wired and wireless. The difference between these is fairly self-explanatory, but both have advantages and disadvantages. Wired CarPlay allows you to charge your phone while driving and also provides a higher standard of audio, if that's something you're into.

Wireless CarPlay uses Bluetooth, so once you do the initial pairing and activation of wireless CarPlay by following the prompts on your phone, you shouldn't have to touch it again. Anyone with an iPhone 5 or later running iOS 9 or later can use either wired or wireless Carplay. CarPlay does not work with iPods or iPads, so don't even try.

What apps are compatible with Apple CarPlay?

Many native Apple apps have built-in CarPlay equivalents, but third-party apps like Spotify or Google Maps, for example, require direct permission from Apple to add CarPlay functionality. Examples of popular third party apps include IHeartRadio, Waze, Overcast, Zoom and WhatsApp.

Is Apple CarPlay useful?

Aside from the safety factor and the familiarity of using apps you already know and trust, one big benefit of CarPlay is that it's always the same, regardless of what car you get into. For example, if you get out of your 2022 Honda Civic daily driver and want to load up your 2019 Ford F-150 for a weekend of camping, you'll have the same seamless infotainment experience in both vehicles. It's also extremely handy if you and a significant other share a car.

How to connect Apple CarPlay to an older car

So, now you’re convinced that Apple CarPlay is a good thing and you’ve got an iPhone that works with it, but your older car sadly doesn’t. What can you do to remedy this? Thankfully, this doesn’t mean that you necessarily need to go car shopping. Many aftermarket car stereos now come with Apple CarPlay integration that works as seamlessly as it would on a factory system.

Many of these systems are what's known as “double DIN” which refers to the size of the opening needed in the dash to fit them, but most cars have this already. Depending on how handy you are, you can typically install one of these aftermarket stereos yourself, though it’s usually best to have a professional do the install for you. Prices for these start at around $170 before installation.

New cars under $23,000 that have Apple CarPlay

If adding CarPlay to an older car seems like too much trouble, or if you’re already in the market for a new car, this list of the cheapest vehicle models that you can buy in 2023 that have Apple CarPlay should be a big help. None of these vehicles will cost you much more than $23,000, and that’s not bad.

  • 2023 Hyundai Venue

  • 2023 Hyundai Elantra

  • 2023 Kia Rio

  • 2023 Kia Soul

  • 2023 Kia Forte

  • 2023 Mitsubishi Mirage

  • 2023 Nissan Versa

  • 2023 Nissan Sentra

  • 2023 Nissan Kicks

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