What is Apple Carplay - Everything you need to know | Top Gear
BBC TopGear
BBC TopGear
Subscribe to Top Gear magazine
Sign up to our Top Gear Magazine
Sunday 1st October
Future Tech

What is Apple CarPlay, and is it the same as Bluetooth?

Convenient car tech proves confusing to some, TG clarifies things

Published: 03 Feb 2023

In the mind boggling world of connected car tech, it’s getting harder to navigate what certain features do and don’t do. If you weren't born connected umbilically to your mobile device, you’d be forgiven for thinking Apple’s phone-mirroring application CarPlay is the same as Bluetooth, since both are a means of getting stuff from your phone to play through your car.

In fact, Bluetooth and CarPlay are separate features. Bluetooth uses radio frequencies at short range to transfer data - in the case of our cars, calling and audio output via the car’s speakers. It’s pretty basic technology now, but one that has become increasingly reliable as the build quality of devices and chips has improved. Now, the only time anyone grumbles about Bluetooth is when it doesn’t pair straight away, but the trick to resolve that usually lies in the old 'turn it off and back on again' power cycle.

Advertisement - Page continues below

Apple CarPlay, on the other hand, is a bit more sophisticated, especially in that it can connect to the infotainment system of the car through a cable OR wirelessly, depending on what your particular model of car supports. It’s the phone-mirroring opposite to Google’s version, Android Auto. Like its Google equivalent, CarPlay takes the apps on your phone and displays them on the car’s centre display. 

Naturally, not all applications transfer over - Angry Birds, Candy Crush and League of Legends are, for example, not available on the big screen by default. The apps that display are specifically curated by Apple, since certain ones that require more interaction - messaging, for example - have been programmed to limit such interaction from the driver. Thus, with messaging, if you wish to use it, you have to use voice control to compose the message. You'll also find Siri will read back your messages while you drive. 

The thinking is because you’re already familiar with the Apple interface, you’ll recognise icons quicker and so you’ll be less distracted from driving when you’re changing audio or using Apple Maps. 

Speaking of Maps, it recently underwent an update to feature photos, business information and promotions as it works to compete with Google Maps. And that's not all; CarPlay is getting some pretty wild updates at some point in the future, which will see the tech giant get its paws on the cluster display and take control of some of the switchgear - if any car maker is brave enough to integrate it, of course.

Advertisement - Page continues below


How do I enable Apple CarPlay?

Provided you have a car that has the factory-supported integration of CarPlay, getting set up is pretty straightforward. Most new cars offer CarPlay as a cabled connection. Once you’re plugged in, the car’s display will ask if you want to initiate the app and present an icon to select. Alternatively, the connection will automatically launch the Apple CarPlay programme. 

You will need to make sure your iPhone isn't restricting CarPlay. Go to Settings > Screen Time > Content & Privacy Restrictions, tap Allowed Apps and make sure CarPlay is enabled.

What is Apple CarPlay and how does it work?

Apple CarPlay is simply an application on the operating system of your car’s infotainment suite, just like Word or Excel sitting on your PC’s desktop. When you connect, the app launches and you can access certain applications on your phone, using the centre display. 

The kind of apps made available are streaming services like Spotify, BBC Sounds and TuneIn Radio - enabling drivers to access internet radio stations, rather than being limited to the DAB channels on the car’s radio. WhatsApp and Telegram messaging services are available but as mentioned, they deploy differently in the car, to ensure drivers are not being distracted.

Is there a monthly charge for Apple CarPlay?

In 2019, BMW tried to start charging on a monthly or annual basis for enabling Apple CarPlay, but later changed its mind and returned to a one-off fee. While most car makers use Apple CarPlay integration as a feature to justify the purchase price, there’s always a chance in the future that, like heated seat subscriptions, car brands will try to monetise this feature.

Top Gear

Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.

Can I install Apple CarPlay in my car?

If your car doesn’t have CarPlay integrated, there are aftermarket devices available in the UK to get this feature. These solutions usually involve switching out the current head unit - that is, the console in the centre of the car - and they're not cheap. If you're just looking to get audio streaming services into your car from your phone, you can invest in other solutions, like the Pure Highway range. With any of these fixes, remember it's illegal to touch your mobile while driving and the penalties can be pretty tough.

Why is my car not letting me use Apple CarPlay?

If you've restarted your phone, enabled CarPlay on your iPhone (see above) and you're still not getting any joy, double check your Bluetooth connection and your USB cable by trying another cable. Presuming your phone has all the latest updates and your car is equipped with CarPlay, if you're continuing to have trouble, check in with your nearest dealer for your car model.

More from Top Gear

See more on Future Tech

Promoted Content

Subscribe to the Top Gear Newsletter

Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, you agree to receive news, promotions and offers by email from Top Gear and BBC Studios. Your information will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

BBC TopGear

Try BBC Top Gear Magazine

Get your first 5 issues for £5