For the first time last week I got to try Apple CarPlay, thanks to Volvo South Africa. I’ve previously tested it in demo mode, so using it properly on a finished product, well, in this case the Volvo XC90, was something I couldn’t wait to do. If you follow my articles on Cars.co.za, (and in the latest Forbes Woman Africa), you will know I’m always writing about it.
For those of you who don’t know what CarPlay is, it’s a standard created by Apple so you can interface your iPhone 5 upwards running iOS 7.1+ on your car’s dashboard, usually through its in-car infotainment system. This is not to be mistaken with a basic Bluetooth pairing; CarPlay needs a full on touchscreen within your dashboard to work, manufacturer dependent. It is currently available on the Chevrolet Captiva 2016, Audi Q7 and A4 2016, and of course, the Volvo XC90. It’s also on certain VW models, but you have to pay extra for additional services to get it.
This is what it looks like once paired and connected to the XC90:
It lets you access phone, messages, maps and music/audio apps. The little ‘home button’ on the bottom right is like your iPhone home button and takes you to the above screen if you are anywhere else. You can easily hit the wrong button and end up on the basic landing screen of the Volvo infotainment system. Incidentally, it took me a while to hit the very same home button that I’m so used to on my smartphone.
Getting connected for the first time is straight-forward; and the car needs to be switched on. There are two USB ports in the car, you are meant to plug your iPhone into the one with a white frame around it. Once plugged in, you will get a pop-up message, which explains stuff. You need to accept and then go to the CarPlay icon on the dashboard. When you open the CarPlay icon here, there will be terms and conditions you have to accept and then you are connected. CarPlay lets you connect up to 20 iDevices. Other things to note: Siri has to be turned on in order to use CarPlay. Very NB: CarPlay only works via cable, and not Bluetooth.
The CarPlay interface is based on iOS, so if you’re on iPhone, it will look familiar, and you don’t have to learn anything additional. You will see mainly Apple services available to you with limited third-party app support. Phone, Music, Messages and Maps being the core of what CarPlay offers. If you have podcasts and audio books, you can also access them, as well as third-party app TuneIn Radio. If you go into any of the apps, the easiest way to get out is tap the home button on the bottom right.
You can listen to all your offline playlists on Apple Music via the Music app. I don’t use cellular data on the Music app so if I’m not on WiFi, I’m accessing my music through offline play. Navigating through them is so easy because it’s so familiar. When you go into Phone, music gets paused automatically and Siri asks who you’d like to call. Most of the time it heard me correctly.
Going into Messages is the same. It pauses your music and reads out any new messages/iMessages. Siri will also reply to them if you want. I’ve tried it and it worked well. I just didn’t remember to add punctuation marks lol. So everything I dictated came out in one string. There’s also currently very limited third-party app support, the only one I had that was available was TuneIn Radio.
The XC90 has built-in navigation which is better to use than Apple Maps – haha. But realistically, you’re better off using the default navigation so you don’t use your data. This is what they look like above with Apple Maps on the left. I like how the Volvo’s own navigation displays next to the speedometer so you don’t have to keep looking left, apart from voice navigation. The same way a new track displays:
So what happens when you open your Camera app? Because everyone is going to want to do that, right? CarPlay disconnects completely when you fire up the camera. To the extent that you have to reconnect it. I just pulled the cable out and back to quickly reconnect. If you open Snapchat while your music is playing, it also goes back to the CarPlay home-screen. Also explains why, if you follow me on Snapchat, I didn’t (couldn’t) post about CarPlay, haha! I get that it’s done for safety reasons.
Also, as mentioned earlier, CarPlay doesn’t work with Bluetooth. It only works via cable, through a specific USB port (as per the Volvo XC90). On the upside, you won’t run out of power as it’s constantly being charged. On the downside, it could wreck your battery in the long term if it’s permanently being charged when it doesn’t need to. You could also just pair your phone to the car via Bluetooth like you would with an infotainment system and access your playlists, take calls, etc. Basically, you could just not use CarPlay if this is a concern.
NEW FEATURES WITH IOS 10
There will be new features coming to CarPlay with iOS 10. This includes live traffic on a revamped Apple Maps with alternate route offerings. You can delete stock-standard apps from the dashboard that you don’t use. Siri will be able to send messages to WeChat, Whatsapp, Slack, etc. “Parked Car” is a feature that remembers where you parked your car when you disconnect CarPlay.
Welcome to Wired to the Web. My name is Nafisa Akabor and I’m a technology journalist covering business and consumer tech for the last 13 years. I’m passionate about start-ups, smartphones, mobile payments, travel tech and electric cars. ✉️ email@example.com