Finally announced at the start of March 2014, Apple CarPlay is the much-mooted and long-awaited 'iOS in the car' project finally coming to fruition.
With our digital tech barely having made a scratch on the largely analogue in-car experience, the automobile is considered by many to be the next great tech battleground.
Because the lifespan of a car is so long compared to the lifecycle of digital technologies like phones and the software they run, the challenge is to create a smart in-car infotainment system that can stay up to date even as your car ages.
Most of the big names in the auto industry have their own systems, but in the last couple of years they've all been converging on one simple idea – that smart in-car tech needs to be driven by our external devices because they get updated regularly, with the car being just the passive conduit.
We've already seen several cars natively running Android, offering integration with Android smartphones. And that now brings us to Apple CarPlay, a new way of building a car that starts smart and stays that way.
What is CarPlay?
CarPlay is not an in-car system that runs iOS or iOS apps. It's a system that integrates your iPhone apps with your car's digital systems, allowing you to control them and your device, more easily.
The idea is that you plug your iPhone into your car via USB, which instantly handshakes with your vehicle. You can then use the 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.
What can CarPlay do?
The idea of CarPlay is that it allows you to use all your iPhone's functionality without actually touching it. So that includes playing your music, navigating to the shops, taking phone calls, reading text messages and even watching YouTube videos.
In theory, there are no limits to the interplay. Perhaps you'll even be able to turn your wipers on and off simply by talking to Siri or unlock your vehicle using your iPhone - but that's a way off even if it's possible.
From the start, you'll be able to use your iPhone's phone and messaging functionality, play your iTunes music, navigate using Apple Maps and watch videos.
However, Apple's plan is to allow third parties to build CarPlay compatibility into their apps, making them usable through the system.
Confirmed apps with CarPlay features incoming are: Spotify, Podcasts, Beats Radio, iHeartRadio and Stitcher. Expect a smorgasbord of other options to be revealed in time - we foresee a future where all relevant iOS apps are built with CarPlay in mind.
How do you control Apple CarPlay?
There are three ways to control CarPlay, and none of them include touching, looking or even thinking about your iPhone.
1. Control CarPlay using Siri
Using Siri, you'll be able to talk to your vehicle and tell it what to do. That includes playing music from your favourite band or even requesting a specific playlist. You'll also be able to have your messages read out to you before you dictate your reply.
2. Use a touchscreen display
Some CarPlay cars will come with touchscreen displays cooked into the dashboard. Using this display, you'll be able to open and close apps using a very simple homescreen. This will certainly be the most straightforward method of using CarPlay - expect touchscreen options being added to new car models.
3. Use your knobs
Of course, your car will still have physical buttons, knobs and controls and you'll still be able to use these alongside the touchscreen and Siri options. Volume controls, track skip and the like are all seemlessly integrated and will work as expected.
Can CarPlay drive me home?
CarPlay is not a driverless technology. So the command "Siri, drive me home" will no-doubt simply trigger a typical pre-planned sarcastic Siri reponse. "You.. are.. having.. a.. laugh.. aren't... you...David?"
However, what CarPlay can do, is use your iPhone's Apple Maps app to guide you while you drive. If you have an in-dash display, the Maps app will launch a sat nav style window that will give you turn-by-turn guidance without you having to put your iPhone in your field of view. If you don't have a display, you'll still get the turn-by-turn audio cues.
Is my iPhone compatible with CarPlay?
CarPlay requires a certain amount of oomph as well as a lightning connector and thus older iPhone are simply not capable of running it. Only the iPhone 5S, iPhone 5C and the iPhone 5 are currently compatible, as well as all new iPhones moving forward.
Are there any CarPlay cars yet?
There are no CarPlay vehicles on the road right now.
But they're hitting the streets this year, with models from Ferrari, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Mercedes and Volvo all getting in on the act.
Specifically, 2014 will see the launch of CarPlay in the Volvo XC90 SUV, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and the Ferrari FF.
That's not all though, because many other big names in the car industry have committed to supporting the CarPlay platform with future models.
These include BWM, Chevrolet, Ford, KIA, Land Rover, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Opel, Peugeot-Citroen, Subaru, Suzuki and Toyota.
Volvo has posted a cool CarPlay video:
Can you get CarPlay for your existing car?
No plans have yet been officially announced for an after-market version of CarPlay. However, Mercedes is one automaker that is said to be considering making one. It's already committed to installing CarPlay in its C-Class vehicles and word is that it's building a unit that will allow current Mercedes drivers to make use of the CarPlay technology.
Are there any rivals to CarPlay?
Predictably, Google is already heavily involved in this space. In fact, with its huge investment in Google Maps and driverless car technology, some would say that Google is already well ahead of Apple when it comes to in-car tech.
- Read: Google vs Apple CarPlay
In 2013, Korean automaker Kia publicly predicted that Google will dominate car infotainment while at the beginning of March 2014, Mercedes spilled the beans on Google's 'Projected Mode' - the current name for its CarPlay rival system.
What does Apple say about CarPlay?
"CarPlay has been designed from the ground up to provide drivers with an incredible experience using their iPhone in the car," said Greg Joswiak, Apple's vice president of iPhone and iOS Product Marketing.
"iPhone users always want their content at their fingertips and CarPlay lets drivers use their iPhone in the car with minimized distraction. We have an amazing lineup of auto partners rolling out CarPlay, and we're thrilled it will make its debut this week in Geneva."