Apple CarPlay: iPhone Apps for Your Dashboard


Now that Apple CarPlay has been introduced for several notable automobile brands, it is time to take a look at dashboard tech and how it connects to your mobile world, especially if you use an iPhone.

People have been able to connect their iPhones to their car radios for years now, usually through cables, Bluetooth connections, and other simple interfaces. This allows you to play music from your iPhone, and receive hands-free phone calls at the right time, but little else.

Apple (and a number of other tech companies, like Microsoft) have higher aims for connecting mobile devices to ever-advanced car computers. One result of this ambition is the long-awaited CarPlay, the Apple software that allows an iPhone to function as an integral part of the dashboard. The idea is to make your dashboard more familiar, more connected with your other devices, and more app-friendly. We also get a glimpse of the future of all automobiles.

What Does Apple CarPlay Do?

CarPlay requires that users plug their iPhones into their cars when they get in, through a familiar Apple-brand Lightning cable. This only works on the later versions of the iPhone, so if you have an iPhone 4 or earlier, you’ll need an upgrade.

One your phone is plugged in and your car is on, the dashboard — preferably a large touchscreen — will show your iPhone apps in the familiar iOS icons, very much like looking at the home screen for an iPad. With a quick tap you can access maps, messaging, music, radio apps, and calling services. Everything ties naturally into your car speakers for basic sound (and features like Siri), but you can no longer use the iPhone itself as long as it is plugged in.

You will not be constricted to an Apple-only setup of software. Other dashboard apps will also be available with the press of a button, including apps that Apple may not support, such as remote-start apps, Google apps, and others. This gives CarPlay an extra layer of flexibility, although you might lose the familiar Apple layout.

The Availability Question

An iPhone 5 isn’t the only thing you will need to make CarPlay work. For now, the software is only being incorporated in a few different models released by certain automakers. Apple has reached a deal with Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, and (hopefully with lower-cost options) Volvo to use Apple CarPlay in their upcoming models. Other automakers are also getting ready to adopt the technology for their cars.

This does not mean that CarPlay will be available immediately on all models. One the contrary, for each of these automakers, one or 2015 models will sport the technology, with more models to follow. The Volvo 2015 XC90 crossover, for example, will have CarPlay, but Volvo has not announced that any other models will. The Mercedes C-Class will have it, but it will not be immediately available for all new Mercedes cars.

Differences occur in how CarPlay is used as well. Volvo is using the software to make everything as touchscreen-oriented as possible. Mercedes appears to be avoiding touchscreen features for now but is still incorporating iOS capabilities into its dashboard. This innate adaptability of CarPlay helps Apple appeal to a wider range of car companies — although it also warns that you may not get all the features you want.

The Future of Your Dashboard

Mobile and dashboard integration is the future of automobile tech. The question is which system will dominate, and who will be the primary competitors. Apple is not the only player in the game: Ford has had an ongoing relationship with Microsoft, for example, but with mixed results, and Ford may be switching to a Blackberry standard instead. Google is also making inroads in dashboard tech.

Carmakers have a challenge when it comes to picking a tech partner. They want to choose a big brand that will attract buyers, but they also need to work with their tech partners years in advance to develop the right dashboard software while ensuring it remains compatible as phone models come and go. If CarPlay proves a long-term success, automakers will be more willing to start creating their own apps for it, developing richer and more car-oriented features as time goes on. Of course, if you already love your iPhone and want to be an early adopter, keep an eye on your favorite vehicle brands to see when they may be getting CarPlay.