Until Project Titan develops into an actual Apple Car and hits the road, Apple will award “the best iPhone experience on four wheels” title to its CarPlay infotainment feature which it says offers “a smarter, safer way to use your iPhone in the car.” Available on a growing number of vehicles from select manufacturers, CarPlay lets you connect your iPhone to your car for using Siri and an on-screen interface optimized to let you safely access apps while driving.
CarPlay relies on intelligence from your iPhone, using car hardware like microphones and built-in displays for input, so annual iOS updates mean the feature can learn some new tricks just like your iPhone and iPad. So what’s new with CarPlay in iOS 9 and how has the feature changed since my initial review a year ago? Let’s take a look:
Because CarPlay is really a projection of your iPhone in a more limited capacity, an app that changed in some way on your iPhone in iOS 9 has likely changed in CarPlay. There are exceptions to the rule, however, as well as some foundation level changes that improve CarPlay but don’t change your iPhone. You’ll notice use of Apple’s new San Francisco font as well as a redesigned Siri that matches iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches, and soon Apple TVs running the latest software.
Looking at the home screen launcher, there are a couple new icons in CarPlay on iOS 9 compared to CarPlay a year ago. Since we last looked at CarPlay closely, iBooks added Audio Books playback for those purchased through iTunes.
The Apple Music subscription service launched in June with iOS 8.4 and replaced the pinkish-orange and white icon with a mostly white and multicolor version. CarPlay did pick up the new icon then but hasn’t gained much of the music service’s features. That’s still mostly the case with iOS 9, although there are a few notable differences.
You won’t find the For You or New sections from Apple Music on CarPlay yet, but Apple’s free Beats 1 live radio station is featured up top in Radio and you can favorite and unfavorite songs with the redesigned Now Playing screen to let Apple Music know more about your taste.
You can also playback both streaming and local songs from My Music including Apple Music playlists, although Music in CarPlay is still organized like the old Music app on iPhone which means yes, Bono’s singing silhouette still graces the Artists button for now. What has changed is the Now Playing screen. Album art appears behind a transparent mask rather than a dark gradient that fades to black. Text buttons for repeat and shuffle have also been replaced with wire icons keeping with iOS 9 design.
The built-in Podcasts app also sports a new icon, improved interface, and redesigned Now Playing screen. Apple has changed how it handles podcasts over the years. Playback was first included in the iPod app on iOS, then moved to its own Podcasts app on the App Store, only to be built-in again with iOS 8. Just like with the Music app on iOS 8.4, Apple delivered a major overhaul of its Podcasts app on iOS 9 and CarPlay benefits.
Navigating the app is now easier with unplayed episodes easier to access with fewer taps. You can also access what you’re playing much easier in the hierarchy with a new pause and resume option. Podcast playback pauses for audio interruptions like navigation guidance so you don’t have to rewind to hear what Siri interrupted. And even if you use a third-party podcast app, the top charts spot makes it easy to quickly find something to play when you run out of episodes of your regular podcast client.
The first of only three things mentioned in the release notes, CarPlay in iOS 9 now supports playing back voice recordings sent over iMessage:
Plays back audio messages, letting you hear from people in their own voices
You still can’t send audio messages, however, which would take out all the guess-work with Siri-powered speech-to-text. Apple Watch, on the other hand, by default allows you to dictate iMessages as either speech-to-text or an audio message. I’ve previously made the case for Apple Watch being a better driving companion than CarPlay, and I’ll be revisiting that thought soon with watchOS 2 in mind.
As I mentioned in my initial review last year, I would prefer to send audio messages to my iMessage contacts by default when using CarPlay. While that’s not even an option yet, playing back audio messages is a start. The only catch is that you only get one play; tapping Read Again tells you there is an attachment but can’t replay it.
CarPlay benefits from iOS 9’s new features in Reminders too. iOS 9 adds “Getting in the car” and “Getting out of the car” as triggers for location-based reminders. These alert you when connecting to or disconnecting from “any paired car” which means supported Bluetooth systems or CarPlay. I’m a frequent CarPlay user and rely on Reminders to keep my head straight, so I really appreciate this new feature.
In addition to adding a new trigger option to existing reminders, this opens up the door for useful driving-specific reminders. Tell Siri “remind me to fill up with gas when I get in the car” or “check my tire pressure when I get out of the car” for example. These also work with iOS 9 and compatible Bluetooth systems, but CarPlay presents the alert and additional options like marking it completed or snoozing it on-screen.
With the introduction of Apple Music and Photos, we’ve seen a new heart icon that indicates a “like” or a bookmark. This favoriting icon has made its way to Apple Maps in iOS 9 so CarPlay presents it for bookmarked locations. This heart icon means play more songs like this in Music, save these images to a special album in Photos, and remember this location for quick access in Maps.
Intelligence as Apple puts it is a flagship feature behind-the-scenes with iOS 9, and proactive assistance is one of its tent pole points. Maps benefits by using traffic conditions to notify you when you should leave for an appointment with an address on your calendar, and using Maps in CarPlay also includes a couple new behaviors.
During navigation Apple Maps now alerts you to congested traffic ahead during your trip. Maps also presents faster alternative routes now during travel when traffic develops and slows down your trip.
Proactive features stop at traffic alerts and alternative routes with CarPlay in iOS 9 however. Where iPhone and iPad benefit from a new Siri-focused page to the left of the main Home screen, CarPlay still doesn’t go beyond the basic app launcher. A concept by Casey Feldman featured on Dribbble illustrates what a smarter CarPlay could look like in the future.
This imagines well placed buttons for common Siri tasks like creating a note or reminder, viewing a countdown to your next calendar entry, or even using HomeKit to close your garage door as you drive away. You’ll also notice current temperature, which many car dashboards present, placed cleanly in the CarPlay status bar.
Something else missing from CarPlay in iOS 9 is points-of-interest categories made available on the iPhone and iPad. These would fit in naturally on CarPlay, which focuses on limiting distractions in the car, so I would love to see any of these implemented.
The state of apps on CarPlay, on the other hand, has rather rapidly progressed. While there’s no specialized CarPlay App Store yet as there is for Apple Watch and developers can’t openly create and submit apps without Apple’s approval, the number of CarPlay apps available has grown from a few to a small handful of audio apps over the last year. I discovered many more less known CarPlay apps during my research for this piece. Many of these playback audiobooks and podcasts or Internet radio stations.
Apple has also opened the door to “Support for CarPlay apps from auto manufacturers” as mentioned in iOS 9’s release notes. These will allow users to stay in the CarPlay experience while controlling car-specific functions from the automaker.
Optimized for night time driving, CarPlay now features dark notification banners for alerts. These replace the standard white banners in the evening, although in my testing typically aren’t enabled without first opening Maps which uses location to determine when to use dark mode.
By default my display toggles between brightness settings based on whether or not my headlights are on, although I’ve changed this to be based on time of day instead. Perhaps others may experience this with dark banners already (I haven’t), but I would like to see these kick in consistently around 7 pm automatically.
In addition to adding support for car apps from the automakers, CarPlay in iOS 9 adds support for new display types as well. Additional screen types including ones with wider aspect ratios and high DPI can now support CarPlay. This means we should see support spread to a wider and interesting range of displays going forward.
While I haven’t had the opportunity to test it, iOS 9 actually delivers wireless support for using CarPlay as we first reported was in development. The feature isn’t available on current aftermarket displays just yet and we haven’t seen it enabled in current cars shipping with CarPlay either, but once readily available wireless CarPlay should greatly improve the whole experience. The convenience of auto-connecting between iPhones and audio systems over Bluetooth cannot be overstated. You never have to even take your iPhone out of your pocket and audio can autoplay if desired.
I’m happy to see Apple ship wireless CarPlay so soon with iOS 9 and hope we’ll see it implemented in products you can buy soon. And while I haven’t tried it out yet and can’t speak to its performance and stability, I stumbled on this iPhone battery indicator in CarPlay with iOS 9. You don’t always see it as it’s likely only meant for wireless CarPlay, but I think it would be a useful addition for wired connections too.
Lastly, iOS 9’s release notes mention tilting and spinning knob controls for navigating the CarPlay interface.
Full support for car knob controls, so you can tilt and spin to scroll through lists or pan around in Maps
We’ve seen automakers like Mercedes-Benz take this approach, relying on hardware controls rather than touch displays.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2cAnkwQflE]
As more display types join the existing variety of screen types including both resistive and capacitive touch displays, this helps CarPlay adapt to whichever type of hardware is provided.
Redesigned Siri and Now Playing screens, a new Podcasts app, audio message playback, wireless, and visual tweaks throughout the interface really summarizes what’s new with CarPlay this year. Some of it requires new hardware and others features are steps in the right direction but don’t move CarPlay way ahead just yet.
Still, I’m happy to see CarPlay not just sit parked and actually move forward if even a small amount as new features come with each iOS update. Next up I’d really like to see the ability to send audio messages, a better Apple Music experience, and maybe even more customization options like being able to rearrange app icons (it’s currently alphabetized for third-party apps).
After using CarPlay for a full year now I’m pleased at its progress and recommend considering it as a feature to look out for when buying a new car or picking out an aftermarket display. It’s still not perfect, but CarPlay is getting better with time.
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Problem is after 27 months after being unveiled its still only in a handful of cars. Hopefully 5he the iOS 9 wireless connection will help it be available in more cars. The slow rollout is disappointing. It like HomeKit does not getting enough support from Apple.
Apple seems to be holding back companies on CarPlay,AirPlay and HomeKit. Not one mention of CarPlay or HomeKit from the September event was disappointing. HomeKit should been the killer feature of Apple TV and didn’t even get a mention. Last week at the Frankurt motor show only the Honda Civic getting CarPlay was lol the attention CarPlay got. New features are handy, but are worthless when it is alwys followed with other car companies have plans for it and not having more cars on the road with CarPlay
I’m still struggling to find any car available in the UK which has CarPlay. And no, I can’t afford a Ferrari.
buy one of the pioneer avic decks. usually factory installed decks are crap!
I have it in new Fabia along with Android Auto.
All new VW have Carnet as a £100 option, which supports CarPlay and Mirror Link
Volvo is going to release at the end of next month in the new XC90, and the rest of the range will fully have it over the next few years.
Seems like CarPlay is Apple’s new hobby. I wonder if they will ever take it seriously and create a “carOS” like the new AppleTV.
On my Alpine ILX-007, iOS9 and CarPlay has been a step backwards. I can no longer press anything in the Apple Music app to take action. Playlists, songs, stations all present themselves as lists of data but pressing anything does *nothing*. Double frustrating because just a few weeks ago I cancelled my Spotify subscription to go to Apple Music exclusively, and now it’s broken. I did go to iOS 9.1 Beta hoping that addressed the issue, but it hasn’t, same issue.
I had a Pioneer unit with CarPlay, and I had a similar experience. Not with this particular issue, but it was always annoying or buggy or not quite right. Touchscreen was terrible, it always tried to use Siri when it would be faster to just press a big button on the screen (and Siri didn’t work that well when I did try to use it). And I didn’t know if the glitches were Apple bugs, a Spotify/Pandora/Beats/Whatever bug, or a Pioneer head unit problem. But it was always a pretty bad experience. I don’t even have that car anymore, and in my new car I’m sticking with the built-in head unit’s USB connection. I mounted my iPhone to use navigation apps, and any audio I want plays just fine as it does on the iPhone itself. Even works with steering wheel controls. Never going back to CarPlay.
i have a Nex 7000 deck and IOS 9 has been really good. i don’t use Apple music but i do use TuneIn radio, Iheart Radio, CBS app etc. i have bugs from time to time but nothing major. usually the issue is my data connection.
I have the brit version which is the ilx700. IOS 8.4.1 made it drop out once then would work for the rest of the journey. IOS9 has completely screwed it up! It drops out repeatedly after 50 secs and will not play again until unplugged and plugged back in. I got through to a guy in the states who asked a lot of questions as if I was the only one in the world with this problem. He said he would do everything possible to investigate and would ‘reach right back out to me’ when he had solved it. Four days later and nothing.
Alpine say it is an Apple problem and they will no doubt fix it, eventually! I now have a £700.00 radio with a big screen. Wow…
…Update on Alpine ILX007 dropping out (see above). I waited for El Capitan to be released before I restored my phone (notes cannot be read on icloud from IOS9 backup without it). I bit the bullet and restored the phone and guess what…carplay still dropped out. IOS9.01 and 9.02 have no beneficial effect.
I restored the phone as a NEW phone and it worked. Great! I then decided to stick with Apple and bought a 6s plus and backed up in the Apple shop. Great! Car play working well, and continued to work well… but ONLY FOR ONE WEEK! I reset the phone losing all my settings of course and now my head unit alternates between ‘USB device not supported’ and working as before for about a minute.
I contacted Apple who suggested doing what I already did above despite my remonstrations that I shouldn’t have to do this with a brand new phone. They agreed but didn’t relent. I now have an email asking me to contact them (when I am ready) so that they can guide me through the procedure of bringing everything back down from the cloud, one by one so that there will be no ‘contamination’ from my old phone.
This is complete tosh! What makes them think it’s some legacy from my old phone? The new one worked for a week and then went belly up!
Come on Apple, provide us with some support for once instead of empty platitudes every conversation.
Just to follow up on my issues: Beta 2 of iOS 9.1 has fixed the “can’t click” issue… I do still have the cutting in and out issue that Robert James Paul below has. And this goes for my 6+ with iOS 9.1 B2 and my wife’s 6S with iOS 9.0 on it. it plays to 6 seconds then stops
I have no no info regarding carplay but some years ago, I was involved in discussions between car makers and GPS/Maps providers and I can tell you that carmakers have zero interest in 3rd party products in their cars. They want to control every aspect, they feel it is a privilege to be in their vehicles and any company interested in being in them should be willing to pay heavily for that privilege.
I’m surprised it made it in that many brands already
Ty great article, I was waiting for this :) one question, Any CarPlay stereo will benefit from this? I was going to buy pioneer appradio 4 and this look awesome ty again
@apollozac what’s the year/model of your Toyota? It looks great in your vehicle.
I have CarPlay.
Pros: Now the iPhone charges while navigating and playing music simultaneously. Previously, without CarPlay, the iPhone would discharge while plugged in and doing navigating and music playing via BlueTooth.
Cons: 1. Phone call audio quality is better with BlueTooth vs CarPlay.
2. No WAZE support in CarPlay. WAZE is superior for traffic around NYC.
1. iPhone plugged into car USB with CarPlay
2. WAZE on my iPhone screen.
3. Music through CloudBeats, seen as iPod on my car screeen.
But can’t you display Waze on your car screen?
Neither CarPlay nor Android Auto let you use 3rd party maps.
I have a Pioneer device with CarPlay, but I never use it. I have an iPhone mount on my dash and I like using Waze app for navigation.
Apple CarPlay doesn’t allow me to show different things on both screens. I want to be able to flick through my library on the main unit without quitting the map on my iPhone, but CarPlay only shows the same thing on both, if switch apps one, the other automatically switch too. Also, I think CarPlay should connect via bluetooth, I hate cables (who doesn’t?).
That specific point makes it totally worthless for me. I bought the unit just because I wanted CarPlay really bad, but I don’t regret buying the Pioneer unit because it’s truly awesome, but CarPlay totally sucked for me. Once they add bluetooth connection and allow the unit to show apps on the phone background I’ll be happy to start using it again. Until that I’m advising all my friends NOT TO BUY IT!
Just return from Frankfurt and all top ice equipped vw group cars now have car play
Going to wait until they support wireless
Will be interesting to see how they do that as when most people get into their cars they will still be attached to their home wifi.
Maybe they will use Bluetooth to detect you are in the car and then force the phone to switch to the car wifi.
It would not be cool to have to go into settings every time you get in the car to switch wifi network!
Based on what I have learned yesterday – BMW is dropping support for CarPlay – see http://wp.me/p2k0f3-ft1
I have a 2016 VW Golf. CarPlay, when it works, is nice but has a number of bugs. OK, it’s new. maybe they will get fixed. The fundamental issue I have is that about twice a week CarPlay simply doesn’t function. Sometimes a hard reset of both the head unit and the phone will fix it, sometimes not. VW says they see no issues, and of course Apple is no help. Honestly I wish I’d have got the 2015 without it and saved myself $2,000. I’d rather not have it than have it in it’s current state.
IMO if you’re waiting for a car with carplay, don’t. It’s not currently in a state where it’s worth it.
Does anyone know what that Free Books app next to Deezer in the screenshot is?