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What is Apple Carplay and How Does it Work

Apple Carplay is a feature found in new cars (as well as some 3rd-party head units) that allows you to control certain iOS apps right from your vehicle’s media system.

It means you can make hands-free phone calls, have map apps for in-dash turn by turn navigation, listen to Apple podcasts, and use voice-to-text functionality to answer messages, etc. without even touching the phone.

Although debuted way back in 2014, Carplay gained popularity only after 2018 when apple announced Google maps’ availability in addition to already-present Apple maps.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Many other popular apps such as WhatsApp, LINE, Spotify, and Audible support Carplay and Apple is trying hard to increase this number.

Which Phones & Cars Offer Apple Carplay

According to Apple, more than 600 different models come with CarPlay support. As big as this number may seem, it only constitutes a small portion of all models manufacturers have released since 2014. You can use this list to see if your vehicle is one of those.

On the other hand, if you own an iPhone 5 or any later model, it’s eligible for the carplay feature.

How Does Carplay Work?

The set up is quite simple. You’ll have to connect your iPhone with a carplay-compatible car using a USB-A-to-lightning connector. The important thing here to note is that you must plug that cable into the specific USB port for carplay.

Plugging it into any other USB port of your car stereo will not do anything. It’s better to check your car manual to find out the exact location of that port.

Once you’ve made the connection, a carplay logo will display on your iPhone screen. And that’s it.

After this, apps like Apple Music, Podcast, Messages will be mirrored on your in-car display and you’ll able to control them there.

In iOS 13, released in September 2019, Apple launched a feature called dashboard view that allows you to use multiple apps at one time

The cable connection is mandatory for using carplay – even if you’re using Bluetooth for audio streaming. It’s because map navigation requires higher data transfer.

Some high-end cars come with wireless CarPlay that uses WiFi/Bluetooth for the data transfer.

Since voice commands are a big part of this whole setup, you must have Siri activated on your iPhone before connecting it to your stereo unit.

That being said, this technology is not flawless and many people have reported that the CarPlay in their vehicles disconnects randomly.

How Much it Costs?

The carplay is free in itself, but you’ll be charged for data while streaming over the web or using map navigation.

How to Add Apple Carplay to Your Existing Vehicle

In case you have an older vehicle, your only option to use this feature is by replacing your factory head unit with an aftermarket model that supports carplay.

But such head units are expensive. An entry-level model will cost 100-200 bucks – with some high-end stereos costing even more than $500.

Lastly, you’ll need a wireless CarPlay dongle if your factory head unit has built-in wired CarPlay and you want to upgrade it to wireless.

So, is Apple Carplay Worth it?

It depends.

If you’ve got a new vehicle that supports this feature, then yes it’s worth it.

If you’re looking for a new car in the market, make sure that it supports Carplay.

But it gets tricky if you already own a car and it doesn’t come with this feature.

Spending $500-700 on upgrading to a carplay-compatible head unit will not bring much value if you’re not a frequent car traveller. Not to forget that 3rd-party apps are still very limited.

In this case, I’ll suggest you to wait until there’s a significant increase in supported apps and/or you get a good value carplay-compatible head unit.

Michael Brown is the founder of, a website that provides car audio installation guides and tips. A self-taught car audio enthusiast, Michael has been installing and modifying car stereo systems for over 15 years.

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