Apple CarPlay: A smarter brain for your car

Will Kinton
Apple CarPlay

Your car's infotainment system, which provides access to music, directions and more, has become "the brain" of the car.

Many essential functions that were previously occupied by a switch, dial or button have been moved to a computer. But some systems have proved clunky, over-complicated and nonintuitive. Some systems even compromise the driving experience of otherwise great cars — for example, Consumer Reports says Cadillac's CUE system has a cumbersome menu and distracting features.

Not only that, since most cars lack a connection to the Internet, infotainment systems are difficult if not impossible to update. This means that, a year from now, the cutting-edge system in your brand-new car will probably look and feel as outdated as connecting to the Internet in 1996. In a world where technology changes in the blink of an eye, infotainment systems are being left behind.

A simple fact: Automakers aren't very good at designing infotainment systems, and their production timeline isn't well-suited to allow continual improvements and updates to maximize the user experience. 

Enter Apple CarPlay.

Apple CarPlay meshes with infotainment screen

Apple CarPlay takes certain apps from your iPhone and integrates them into a user-friendly interface on your car's infotainment screen. Simply plug your phone into the USB port, and within a few seconds, CarPlay-enabled apps are easily accessible on your infotainment screen without having to pick up your phone. Need to navigate? Just tap the Maps button, and use Apple Maps like you would on your phone. 

Apple CarPlay also fully integrates Siri into the car's infotainment system. Siri isn't perfect, but she isn't limited to a series of set commands. If you receive a text while driving, simply press the voice button on the steering wheel, ask Siri to read it to you, and then tell her how you want to respond. 

The benefits of CarPlay are clear. It's an infotainment system designed by the same people who design your iPhone, and the people who designed your iPhone have a significant head start on creating user interfaces. Also, since your iPhone will continually update and optimize itself, CarPlay should also stay current with technological progress. 

Apple CarPlay has its limits

That being said, CarPlay is still in its infancy. The apps available are pretty limited. Most available third-party apps are audio-focused, such as Spotify, Pandora, MLB at Bat or Audible. Additionally, If you want to use your phone to navigate, your only option is Apple Maps; third-party navigation apps such as Waze or Google Maps are not currently supported. Using CarPlay to navigate or play audio also uses your phone's data plan, so be warned. 

There are also a few bugs — which isn't surprising for a new system. Andrew Krok from CNET reports that he occasionally had issues with switching from satellite radio to CarPlay entertainment options. Also, the screen that's on your phone is what's on your display, so if you need to use your phone for something else, whatever app you had open will close, and it will not be displayed again until you reopen it.

Apple enlists 40 automakers

Infancy aside, CarPlay is a step forward for car infotainment options. It's less distracting and will stay current longer. In the near future, CarPlay will be able to use a wider pool of apps, increasing it's appeal. 

Apple has partnered with about 40 automakers — including Volkswagen, Chevrolet, Honda, Cadillac and GMC — to offer CarPlay in certain 2016 models.

About the writer: Will Kinton thinks life is too short to drive boring cars, and enjoys sharing his passion for them. For more, follow him on Twitter: @willkinton247

Photo credit: Volkswagen

See also: 5 technologies to help you save on auto insurance

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