I would hardly consider myself an “Apple Fanboy” but I’ll be honest when Apple released CarPlay I was really excited and wanted it in my car. The first cars with CarPlay hit the market in 2015 and two years later it is starting to become more common to see, to the extent that it is now also available in aftermarket radios. While I want to say my first interaction with CarPlay was everything I had expected it was anything but. In fact not only was the experience lacking but it was frustrating to a point where I haven’t even been using.
My frustration on CarPlay I believe had less to do with CarPlay itself but instead with the hardware driving it. For more than 10 years Apple has restricted it’s software (with exception of Safari and iTunes) to hardware made by Apple and Apple alone. CarPlay is the first Apple OS (and yes it is an OS) that has been released to run on non-apple hardware. This fact alone I believe contributed to all the frustration I encountered with Apple CarPlay. If you removed the issues that I was able to immediately determine to be hardware related problems, Apple CarPlay was everything I had hoped for and more.
Apple CarPlay, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Apple CarPlay is awesome in concept. In the words of the marketing department at Apple “CarPlay takes the things you want to do with your iPhone while driving and puts them right on your car’s built-in display. You can get directions, make calls, send and receive messages, and listen to music, all in a way that allows you to stay focused on the road. Just connect your iPhone and go.” For once everything the marketing people are saying is spot on; at least when it works the way its supposed it.
Connecting to Apple CarPlay
When I first hoped into my 2017 BMW 430i (don’t get all excited, its a rental), I had absolutely no idea the car was equipped with AppleCar Play, until I turned it on. A few seconds after I turned the car on my phone beeped at me and prompted me to connect to the CarPlay in the car. Will just ignore that it is a little creepy my phone apparently is always searching for CarPlay systems it can attach to. The setup process to connect to CarPlay is extremely easy even if your phone doesn’t automatically try to set it up. Go into the Preferences app, select “General” followed by “CarPlay”. Here you will be directed to hold down the voice command button in your car, at which point your car will show up in your list and you pair it just like you would any other handsfree device. You will be prompted for sharing you contacts and similar and then your good to go.
While the setup process is easy this is where I have my first complaint about the CarPlay system. Instead of using Bluetooth which is designed for close range low powered communications, CarPlay establishes it’s connection to the car using WiFi. In theory this really shouldn’t be a big deal accept it means you are not able to utilize your phones Wifi and CarPlay at the same time. This means no running a mobile hotspot from your phone or connecting to one. Why does this even matter? If you have a kid in the car with an iPad that uses your phone as a hotspot to stay entertained your shit out of luck. Wifi as a whole is also subject to issues with interference (some of which can even be generated by your car).
Personally through out my time using CarPlay I experienced regular disconnects from the system and intermittent freeze ups where the wifi was non-functional. I am not sure if this is an issue with CarPlay or the hardware implementation by BMW. Regardless of what the cause was it resulted in me never actually using CarPlay for more than 30 – 45 minutes at a time before there was issues. This ongoing issue with connectivity and drop outs, is what lead me to not enjoy or in the end even use CarPlay. Is Apple or BMW to blame for this problem? In the past I would always blame Apple for these issues, but for the first time in over a decade we have an Apple OS running on 3rd party hardware. A big step but perhaps not one in the right direction.
Apps and What CarPlay can really do!
All CarPlay systems come preloaded with some basic essential apps. These apps include Phone, Now Playing, Music, Maps, PodCasts, Audio Books, and Messages. Depending on the car manufacturer you will likely have another App as well, for the BMW the app is oddly enough called BMW. One important note about these apps is even though they are loaded directly into the system, the entire CarPlay system is dependent on being attached to an iPhone. You can not run Maps for example for navigation with out an iPhone so android users you are out of luck.
Just like your iPhone, iPad, AppleTV, or Apple Watch; CarPlay has some basic functionality but that can easily be expanded on but what Applications you load. Just like with the Apple Watch, the CarPlay system doesn’t actually have its own set of Apps (minus the previously mentioned ones), and gets its Apps from the iPhone that is connected to the CarPlay systems. There are an endless supply of Apps which have CarPlay support but most of them at this point are limited to music related apps. For me the top CarPlay compatible apps are Amazon Music, Pandora, and Spotify. I was extremely disappointed to see that Waze has yet to offer CarPlay support or many of the other travel apps I use on a regular basis. Come on Marriot and Enterprise get on the ball with this.
Core Functions of CarPlay - Overall Usability
The system is designed to utilize Apples voice control software Siri. While I have never found Siri overly useful on my phone or laptop, infact mostly she is downright annoying; when it comes to CarPlay she is spot on. At no time using the system did I ever have it mishear anything I said, and when the whole system was working and not disconnecting from my phone, Siri’s responses where speedy and prompt. Say what you want done and she does it.
One of the biggest downfalls of the system, is your iPhone essentially gets locked out from use. Unlike the AppleWatch where you can do one thing on your Watch and another on your iPhone; CarPlay and iPhone are tied directly together, meaning when you change apps on your phone or in CarPlay the other changes as well. Worse still is that certain functions become completely locked out. Messages for example goes to a display mode only preventing you from actually typing or correcting mistypes made by Siri. I know your not supposed to text and drive but what about when I am sitting in the passenger seat. Overall the usability is good but having functions tied together between devices is a bit annoying.
Core Functions of CarPlay - Music
I am going to start with music as being the first core function of CarPlay, because while phone calls, messaging, and navigation all rank as essential features the reality is Music is likely to be the App you use more than any of the others when it comes to CarPlay.
First and foremost when everything is working as it should (i.e. not disconnecting your phone) the music side of things is rock solid and the control configuration is perfect. Unlike other apps the music function does not lock you out of using your iPhone controls, which is nice since changing radio stations on the music app is a headache.
I would say there are only one feature lacking from music.
When there is no cellular connectivity the system should be smart enough to switch over to music stored locally on the iPhone only.
Core Functions of CarPlay - Text Messaging
Text Messaging and driving don’t mix, most states have made it illegal and in 2016 431,000+ where injured as a result of texting and driving. 3,179 people died as a result of car accidents caused as a result of texting and driving. Regardless of how good of a driver you may be texting accounted for 10% of deaths in car accidents toped only by impaired driving. You can get all the facts over at the council of state governments website. Apple may be well on the way to bringing that number down if they can get CarPlay into more cars.
The messaging system is awesome and works perfectly. There is absolutely no reading involved, the entire system is voice controlled. For me the fact that I couldn’t use my phone for correcting Siri spelling errors was annoying but the reality is should I really be correcting spelling errors while driving down the road doing 80? It is likely for the best that I am locked out of typing on the iPhone while driving.
Core Functions of CarPlay - Phone Calls
In this day of feeling the need to be connected at all times, the ability to make phone calls while driving is key for staying in touch with the world, especially if you spend long durations of time behind the wheel. For me its not uncommon for me to be in the car for half the day at a time.
Call functions with CarPlay are spot on and work perfectly, assuming of course you can keep your phone connected to the system. Interaction is easy and the voice controls are great. The only problem I had with the system is the manual controls on the BMW systems utilize a click wheel instead of a keypad this makes the phone keypad extremely hard to use. Luckily most people don’t need to use the keypad to enter long strings of number, sadly for me I am not most people. Like most of my other Issues this is an issue for BMW not the CarPlay system.
Core Functions of CarPlay - Navigation
When driving on long trips Navigation is key. Since the navigation system in CarPlay is the same as all your other iOS Maps apps, if you liked navigation on your phone your going to like it in CarPlay.
Like the other features in CarPlay the system is entirely voice controlled so you have no manual interaction to worry about. Navigation is lacking some key features but most of those are being addressed in the release of iOS 11.
The only downfall with the navigation is Apple Maps which continues to lack functions like community reporting. How I long for the day when Apple Maps will include all the functions you find in Waze.
The Future of CarPlay with iOS 11
The release of Apple iOS 11 is right around the corner and it will bring with it a couple new features for CarPlay including lane guidance, speed limit notifications, alternative route enhancements, and a do not disturb while driving.
DO NOT DISTRUB
Easily the most important function when it comes to having a mobile phone in the car when driving, is the ability to have people not bother you. In the past you could simply turn it off, but If you turn it off than you lose the ability to use CarPlay Music and Navigation. Apple’s proactive assistant on iOS 11 determines when you’re driving and offers to automatically turn on DND mode via CarPlay.
With DND active while driving, CarPlay won’t be showing any notifications, similar to DND mode on iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. And if someone message you while DND mode is active on CarPlay, the Messages app on your iPhone will auto-respond with a message on your behalf telling the sender that you’re currently driving and will be getting back to them soon.
Like with DND on iOS, DND for CarPlay allows you to cherry-pick contacts whose messages will get through while you’re driving in DND mode. The Messages app on iOS 11 will permit users to respond with a simple “reply” message if they’d like their muted message delivered to CarPlay, as long as they’re on your whitelist.
Those and other CarPlay improvements will launch for everyone when iOS 11 releases for public consumption this fall.
CarPlay on iOS 11 includes the following improvements and changes:
Lane guidance with Siri integration
Speed limit information along your route
Route recommendations are now built into Maps, allowing you to switch quickly
Notification badges in the Dock
New “thinking mode” look for Siri matching that on iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple TV
Refined interfaces in the Podcasts and Music apps
Currently active app is larger in the Dock
Four cellular signal bars replacing the five singular strength dots
Take screenshots by double-tapping or long-pressing the signal bars
Do Not Disturb While Driving
What do you think of CarPlay?
Are you lucky enough to have a brand new car equipped with CarPlay? Has your connectivity between your car and phone been better the experience I had?
If your not one of the lucky ones with a brand new car, it is worth checking out some of the aftermarket systems that now include CarPlay. Personally I am a big fan of the Kenwood Model especially since it has a touch screen instead of the stupid BMW click wheel. Check out the Kenwood DDX9703S by clicking here.