I finally tried CarPlay and now I’m convinced Apple should never build a car – but not for the reason you think

(Image credit: Future)

CarPlay is good. That’s the Tweet, the Thread, the LinkedIn post, and the complete thought. If you read no further than that know that Apple has already solved the in-car experience and it should just stop there.

I’ve seen and written about CarPlay but never truly used it, mainly because none of my aging cars support it. However, on a recent trip down south and one rental car later, I’m not only a CarPlay fan but a convert.

Some years ago, I wrote about my then-new Mazda 6 Grand touring. At the time, it was the most technologically advanced car I’d ever owned. The in-car touch-screen dash was decent sized and packed full of features, including the ability to ingest all my contacts via Bluetooth and then manage phone calls through the in-car system. Granted, the interface was never great. I eventually gave up entirely on the funky GPS and navigation system in favor of – you guessed it – my best iPhone mounted on the dashboard.

I’ve driven in Teslas with massive dashboard screens and more intelligence than your average laptop and have wondered if that’s maybe too much for most consumers. When it came to Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, I struggled to understand how replicating the smartphone experience in the car dashboard was any better than just using the phone.

The Apple Car you need


(Image credit: Future)

Now, I realize I was wrong. CarPlay is a treat, and not because it’s a mirror for the iPhone’s iOS 17 interface. It’s not. It’s something less but also something far better.

For my vacation, we rented a compact 2024 Nissan Versa. The interior is best described as workmanlike, and the dash screen isn’t all that large. When we rented, we did not ask if it supported CarPlay. In fact, I had no intention of using Apple’s in-car system. We stumbled into it as usual and quickly plugged one of our phones into one of the car’s three USB charge ports.

When we did so, I noticed the CarPlay option appear on the dash display, so I tapped it and was greeted with an interface that knew where we’d been searching and was prepared to take us to our destination.

I marveled at the clean look that was both Apple-familiar and clearly designed for the automobile.

Even though we began the trip planning on the phone, we could complete it on the CarPlay screen and, naturally, use the turn-by-turn navigation it provided to get us from hotel to restaurant and restaurant to museum.

The beauty of CarPlay is that it had all my iPhone information, like upcoming meetings, messages, and music, all just a touch away. It occurred to me that Apple had taken the time to strip away all the superfluous in favor of just what you might need on the journey. It was also a far better interface than I’ve encountered on most car screens – uncluttered, clean, clear, and useful.

Park it


(Image credit: Future)

I no longer subscribe to Apple Music, but selecting the CarPlay Music button gave me access to Apple’s Radio station, which happened to be playing the hotly contested top 100 albums of all time. Suffice to say, we did not agree with most of their selections. That was not an issue because the same interface also gave me access to local radio stations.

What I liked is how I never felt like I was dropping in and out of the interface. It was all one fluid and seamless experience. Perhaps the only disappointment is that CarPlay would not work unless we connected our phones through a wired connection. Bluetooth was not useful here. (Some newer vehicles do support wireless CarPlay through Bluetooth, but it varies by model) Even that was fine, though, because I wanted my phone charging all the time we were on the road.

We used CarPlay throughout the trip, as we drove around Savannah, Georgia, and throughout our journeys between states and to the airport. I knew I would miss it when I returned the Nissan Versa.

Ultimately, my CarPlay experience made me realize the folly of an Apple Car. What more, specifically, can a rolling piece of hardware provide from Apple that CarPlay cannot? Does Apple really want to get into the self-driving car space? Is Apple interested in car service? Of course not. These are at least some of the reasons it likely scuttled the Apple Car and Project Titan. Clearer heads must’ve realized the truth and been like, “Uh, hey, guys? You do realize we already have CarPlay and it’s car-enough for us.”

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Lance Ulanoff
Editor At Large

A 38-year industry veteran and award-winning journalist, Lance has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” He’s a former Lifewire Editor-in-Chief, Mashable Editor-in-Chief, and, before that, Editor in Chief of PCMag.com and Senior Vice President of Content for Ziff Davis, Inc. He also wrote a popular, weekly tech column for Medium called The Upgrade.

Lance Ulanoff makes frequent appearances on national, international, and local news programs including Live with Kelly and Ryan, the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, and the BBC.