Apple CarPlay: everything you need to know about iOS in the car

Apple's official iPhone-compatible in-dash experience

Apple CarPlay

Update: The car compatibility section was updated with information for the 2016 Hyundai Sonata.

Apple touts over 100 vehicle models are available with its smartphone casting technology, CarPlay. That means, chances are that the next new car you buy or lease will support your iPhone in a big way.

You're probably curious about what CarPlay is exactly and how it works, but it's important to know why it was developed in the first place.

Cars take much longer to develop than personal tech products. By the time you can purchase a given car, the infotainment system is already severely outdated. Unlike smartphones, which have short product cycles of a year or two at most, a car product cycle is typically longer.

The average car cycle is a mid-cycle refresh every 2-3 years and a completely new model every 4-6 years, for mainstream vehicles. Luxury vehicles operate on a longer product cycle that can span up to 10 years, albeit with major updates introduced halfway through.

The gap has narrowed dramatically over the last five years, but automakers still can't update maps, software and app support as quickly as Apple and Google can. CarPlay is Apple's solution to this lapse in the car and smartphone development cycles.

What is CarPlay?

Apple CarPlay offers automakers the ability to swap out the complicated and often clunky infotainment systems for a display that interfaces with the iPhone that few can live without.

CarPlay is not an in-car system that runs iOS or iOS apps. It's a connectivity solution that casts a familiar iOS interface to the car's infotainment system display, allowing you to control select apps and your device either with said infotainment screen or your voice.

Hyundai Elantra
The 2017 Hyundai Elantra supports CarPlay for under $20,000

Once you plug an iPhone into your car via a Lightning cable, it instantly casts the user interface you know and love on the in-car screen. You can then use some functionality of your iPhone without having to fumble around with it and take your eyes off the road. It's safer, easier and more convenient – or that's the idea, anyway.

Which cars support Apple CarPlay?

A total of 40 automakers are selling over 100 models with CarPlay connectivity. For instance, you can the majority of brand-new, 2016 model year Cadillac, Chevy, GMC have CarPlay support today.

Audi and Honda are rolling out vehicles with CarPlay with each new vehicle introduction or mid-cycle refresh. Some Hyundai and Kia models have hardware ready for CarPlay, but require a software update that will release later.

Ford promises SYNC 3 will get CarPlay support starting with 2017 model year vehicles, while existing 2016 vehicles will get it later this year.

GMC Sierra Denali

Mercedes-Benz started rolling out support on some of the newer models, but not the entire lineup yet. The majority of Volkswagen's car lineup, with the exception of the Toureg and Eos, support CarPlay.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles pledged support for Android Auto with the next major release of Uconnect, but has yet to confirm what vehicles are getting it.

Apple CarPlay aftermarket solutions?

Just bought a car or not in a rush to replace yours? Fret not. Apple CarPlay aftermarket solutions are available from companies like Alpine, JBL, JVC, Kenwood and Pioneer to launch that CD player into 2016.

JBL Legend CP100

The JBL Legend CP100 is the most affordable way to add CarPlay to your car, with an MSRP of $399 (about £358, AU$556). Alpine, JVC, Kenwood and Pioneer offer a variety of CarPlay compatible products with more audio output options, rear seat entertainment support and even built-in navigation capabilities, but prepare to pay significantly more money for extra features.

Is my iPhone compatible with CarPlay?

Apple CarPlay requires a certain amount of oomph and a Lightning connector, so older iPhones with a 30-pin dock connection are simply not capable of running it.

Only iPhone 5 and newer devices can run CarPlay, including the latest iPhone SE, iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus. If you're hoping to keep an iPad always plugged in for CarPlay functions, it will not work, unfortunately.

What does CarPlay look like?

The idea of CarPlay is it allows you to have the familiar iOS user interface on the infotainment display, and control it using all available in-car controls. So that includes playing your music, navigating to your destination, taking phone calls, as well as reading and sending text messages.

From the start, you'll be able to use your iPhone's phone and messaging functionality, play your iTunes music, listen to podcasts and navigate using Apple Maps. Third party apps are available through CarPlay, too, like Pandora, NPR and iHeartRadio, to name a few.

James Rivington and Matt Swider also contributed to this report