Two years after Eddy Cue first demonstrated iOS in the Car, the promising program (now called CarPlay) is finally making it into cars that people can actually buy.
The Ferrari FF, which costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, was the first car to support CarPlay last year, but some 2016 cars from Chevrolet, Hyundai, and Volkswagen will come with support for the service built in, and they're hitting dealer showrooms now.
I got the opportunity to test a 2016 Volkswagen Jetta with CarPlay support and came away very impressed, though with one big concern.
Instead of using your manufacturer-built infotainment system, which is—more often than not—pretty terrible, CarPlay fills your screen with an enlarged and simplified version of the iPhone. Only certain, car-friendly apps are displayed. They aren't the full apps like you'd find on your iPhone—instead, they have simplified user interfaces for easy, driver-friendly control.
There's a lot of reliance on Siri, especially with the Messages app, which doesn't allow you to type outgoing or read incoming messages. Instead, Siri reads them to you and allows you to dictate messages back. The idea is to get you to spend less time pushing buttons and more time paying attention to the road.
Interface buttons are enormous to facilitate easy pressing. It's a nice change from the manufacturer systems that frequently require you to press tiny buttons, something that's needlessly difficult when driving down the highway at 70 miles per hour.
Plug in your iPhone to the car's USB port (iOS 9 supports wireless CarPlay over Bluetooth, but it's unclear which cars support the service), and you get access to a number of stock apps: Phone, Music, Maps, Messages, Podcasts, and Audiobooks. There's also a "Now Playing" app that gives easy access to forward/back controls for whatever audio source is playing.
A clock, signal strength meter for cell coverage, and a home button live permanently at the left side of the screen. As with the normal iPhone, pressing the home button brings you back to the main app screen from wherever you are.
And it's not just stock apps that appear on CarPlay. Apple has approved a number of third-party apps to work on the service as well, including MLB At Bat, Spotify, CBS Radio, and Audible.
My experience wasn't all good, however. Twice when I plugged my iPhone into the car, it refused to connect to CarPlay and crashed my device. It took several minutes for the phone to reboot itself, and CarPlay still wouldn't connect without turning the car on and off. I'm assuming this is an early bug—perhaps one that was fixed in iOS 9, which was released yesterday, but it's hard to tell.
Still, Apple should quickly get the kinks worked out. As more automakers finally launch support for CarPlay (and nearly every manufacturer has indicated they will), don't be surprised if iPhone lovers begin to choose their cars by whether or not they support their preferred phone—especially once they try it.
Are you interested in having your iPhone take over your automobile dash? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
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- ZDNet: Apple's CarPlay hits the road, powered by Ferrari
- ZDNet: First look at Apple CarPlay: Simple but effective
Jordan Golson is an Apple Columnist for TechRepublic. He also writes about technology and automobiles for WIRED and MacRumors. He has worked for Apple Retail twice and has been writing about technology since 2007.