How to Use Apple CarPlay: Getting the Most Out of It

If you’re an iPhone owner, Apple CarPlay can be one of the most convenient features found in new cars.

BMW i4 infotainment system showing Apple CarPlay with mountains in viewManuel Carrillo III | Capital One

Article QuickTakes:

Available in almost every new vehicle, Apple CarPlay allows your Apple iPhone to take over your infotainment screen. It gives you a simplified user interface and direct access to low-distraction versions of many apps you might use on your iPhone daily.

Apple also spends billions of dollars every year developing and refining its hardware products and iOS user interface. As a result, CarPlay is often more user-friendly and up-to-date than some automaker-designed systems. Below is a quick-start guide on how to use Apple CarPlay.

What Apps Work with CarPlay?

Apple created CarPlay with drivers in mind. CarPlay supports a wide variety of navigation and audio-focused apps, like Apple Maps, Google Maps, Waze, and some electric-vehicle-charging apps. Music and podcast apps like Apple Music, Pandora, Spotify, Podcasts, MLB—and more—are available for your in-car entertainment needs.

Not every app on your iPhone will work with CarPlay. You can’t watch Netflix on your car’s screen, for example, and apps like Zoom and Cisco WebEx support audio calls but not video.

What Does CarPlay Look Like and How Does it Work?

CarPlay works by connecting your iPhone to your car via a physical USB cable or, on some newer models, through a wireless connection that harnesses the vehicle’s Wi-Fi antenna.

Once connected, your iPhone treats the car as an external monitor and takes control of the screen.

A few years ago, Apple revamped CarPlay with a new Home Screen that supports the display of multiple apps simultaneously. For example, you can view your map app or driving directions side-by-side with the currently playing track from Apple Music. The current time, battery status, and signal strength of the phone take up permanent residence.

What About Voice Commands and Siri?

Once connected, Apple CarPlay works with your vehicle audio system’s knobs, dials, or buttons and integrates with the in-vehicle microphone to enable phone calls and Ask Siri support.

If you’re wondering how to use Apple CarPlay in hands-free mode, users can either say “Hey Siri” or, in many vehicles, press a dedicated voice-command button on the steering wheel and begin communicating with Siri. Siri is useful for entering navigation destinations, picking music, making calls, and sending text messages.

How Does the “Do Not Disturb While Driving” Feature Work?

Apple’s latest iOS 15 expands CarPlay’s “Do Not Disturb while Driving” feature in the older iOS 14 to support “Driving Focus”. It silences alerts and notifications while driving and can turn on automatically when connected to a vehicle via CarPlay or a car’s Bluetooth connection. Do Not Disturb while Driving also can let friends and family know, via text message, that you have notifications silenced. If a message is urgent, they can override the system to send a notification anyway.

You can also use the Driving Focus setting to notify others about your current Focus status when they message you (this tells others via iMessage that you currently have notifications silenced). Or you can activate an auto-reply to be sent to anyone sending you a message notifying them that you’re currently driving and will see their message when you complete your trip. CarPlay won’t display the text of messages received, but Siri will read them out, and you can respond with voice commands.

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Jordan Golson
Jordan Golson is a transportation reporter covering cars, trains, planes, future cities, mobility and more — basically, if it moves and doesn’t go to space, he's on it. He is especially interested in the intersection of transportation and technology, and that means he goes deep into electric cars, autonomous vehicle tech, sensors, safety, connectivity, and similar topics.