What is Apple CarPlay? Here’s Everything You Need to Know!

4 minutes Published: 26/08/2021

If you’re anything like me, you probably live a lot of your life from your phone. Messages, phone calls and emails? Yep, that’s all from my phone. Netflix, Sky Go and Now TV? Yep, they’re all on there. Music and podcasts? They're both on my phone.

With so much of my life delegated to my phone, it’s no surprise that Apple is trying to keep me connected even while I'm driving. However, with bans on phone usage behind the wheel, that job is actually pretty tricky.

Their latest idea is called smartphone mirroring (Apple calls it Apple CarPlay) and it basically takes all the good bits of your phone and makes them available through your car’s infotainment system. There are tons of Apple CarPlay compatible cars these days.

In this article, I’ll take a more in-depth look at Apple CarPlay and I’ll even do a quick comparison with its prime competitor, Android Auto.

If you're in the wrong place and you don't have an iPhone, you can read our full guide "What is Android Auto" and see our list of cars with Android Auto.

What does Apple CarPlay do?

Apple markets Apple CarPlay under the slogan Your ultimate copilot and that’s kind of what it is. It handles your navigation, your communication and your entertainment.

So, instead of fumbling around with some unintuitive entertainment section in your infotainment system, you can fire up Spotify and play your favourite tunes.

Importantly, Apple CarPlay lets you interact with your phone via your steering wheel controls and the infotainment panel, which is legal in the UK and significantly safer than trying to directly interact with your phone. It also optimises the apps for voice commands, meaning you can say, "Spotify, play some Arctic Monkeys" and it will.

What apps are compatible with Android Auto?

As with most Apple products, they’re a bit precious about what apps they allow on CarPlay. At the moment, it supports six core Apple apps (Phone, Music Maps, Messages, Now Playing and Podcasts) and 14 third-party apps (WhatsApp, Spotify, Amazon Music, Google Play Music, iPlayer Radio, CBS Radio, Pandora, Slacker Radio, Tidal, Audible, NPR One, VOX, Clammr, Downcast).

The next iterations of iOS will add in support for three more navigation apps: Here, Wave and, thankfully, Google Maps.

Unlike Android Auto, it’s not entirely clear whether Apple will open up support for additional apps or whether that's your lot. The addition of three new third-party navigation apps might indicate a shift in approach but, then again, it might mean absolutely nothing.

What doesn’t Apple CarPlay do?

As I just mentioned, Apple CarPlay is way more restrictive than Android Auto. There’s two dozen apps available compared to over one hundred, which is really frustrating if you want to use Telegram or Signal instead of WhatsApp.

Like Android Auto, Apple CarPlay can’t control your car’s infotainment system, meaning you have to switch systems if you want to adjust the climate control.

What smartphones support Apple CarPlay?

The good news is that any Apple phone running iOS 7 and above should be able to work with Apple CarPlay.

If you’re not sure what operating system your phone uses, check out this list of compatible devices.

  • iPhone 5
  • iPhone 5C
  • iPhone 5S
  • iPhone SE
  • iPhone 6
  • iPhone 6 Plus
  • iPhone 6S
  • iPhone 6S Plus
  • iPhone 7
  • iPhone 7 Plus
  • iPhone 8
  • iPhone 8 Plus
  • iPhone X

Is it better than Android Auto?

Look, whether you use Android Auto or Apple CarPlay will largely depend on whether you have an iPhone or an Android device. However, if we didn’t compare the two, the comment section would be full of people saying we favouritise one over the other.

  • Model Support: While Apple CarPlay supports 300 models, Android Auto supports over 400! Both CarPlay and Android Auto can be accessed via aftermarket stereo systems. Only Android Auto can run on its own without being hooked up to an infotainment system.
  • App Support: Alongside six core Apple apps (Phone, Music, Maps, Messages, Now Playing and Podcasts), CarPlay supports 17 third-party apps, including WhatsApp, Spotify and iPlayer Radio. Android Auto supports 120 apps, ranging from Spotify and Google Play Music to WhatsApp and YouTube.
  • Interface: Both services do a great job with the interface. Everything is big, easy to locate and simple to navigate. Again, personal preference between Apple and Android will probably sway you one way or the other.
  • Navigation: At the moment, Apple CarPlay doesn’t support Google Maps, which means you’re limited to Apple Maps. If you’ve used Apple Maps, you’ll know why this is a fairly big negative.

Like I mentioned at the start, whether you go with Android Auto or Apple CarPlay is almost certainly decided by what phone is in your pocket.

If you use an iPhone, you aren’t going to trade it in for a Samsung Galaxy just so you can get your hands on Android Auto!