It was only a matter of time before Apple would make the jump into vehicles by trying to simplify how to use an iPhone while behind the wheel, and that vision has culminated in CarPlay. CarPlay isn’t a product unto itself but rather a platform car manufacturers and aftermarket companies can include in their respective infotainment systems. You can get your hands on it now with a new unit from Pioneer Future Shop will be carrying.
At a basic level, CarPlay integrates calls, messaging, music and maps into a visual interface on a dashboard screen. Connect the iPhone via the built-in Lightning connector, and you can use the touchscreen controls on the dash or press a dedicated Siri button on the steering wheel. From the outset, Siri will be able to access contacts, make calls and listen to voice messages. The virtual assistant will also read out incoming messages and notifications, allowing you to respond using your voice, rather than having to touch anything.
Voiced turn-by-turn directions only run through Apple Maps, not Google Maps or other third-party navigation apps. The map itself appears on the screen, visually telling you when and where to turn, which lane to change to and the on-ramp or off-ramp to drive on. Siri can play a role here through the steering wheel controls, and you can initiate a route from a contact, text message or email that includes an address or location.
The included playback controls handle music tracks, podcasts and audiobooks, though again, you can talk to Siri to play what you want. When Apple eventually launches iTunes Radio in Canada, that will be integrated as well. Third-party music apps will also find their way onto the platform, though currently only Podcasts and Stitcher are officially supported in Canada.
It should be noted that the system has been designed to keep the phone away from a driver’s hands, thus avoiding any potential distraction, a police ticket or worse. The only caveat to this is that third-party apps not officially integrated into CarPlay can’t be accessed directly from the screen, unless you use Siri to launch them.
You will need to have at least iOS 7.0 installed on your iPhone to be CarPlay-compatible, and it will only work with the iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c and iPhone 5. Older versions of the iPhone, like the 4 and 4s will not be compatible. It’s also not clear when iPads with Lightning connectors will be officially supported.
Pioneer has three head units that include Apple’s new platform and each of them could be a definite upgrade from your existing car stereo. The company’s AppRadio platform was originally designed to make it easier to use the iPhone in the car, and certain apps not yet included in CarPlay, like TuneIn, Rdio, Waze and NavFree, are already built-in to the interface.
The AVH-4000NEX Multimedia Deck has a 7-inch WVGA touchscreen with Siri Eyes Free, Bluetooth hands-free calling and audio streaming, an HD tuner for enhanced audio quality and the ability to push separate content to rear passenger seats. You have the option to upgrade to include a navigation system but that will cost extra.
The AVIC-6000NEX has a 6.1-inch WVGA touchscreen basically offers the same set of features, except it also adds navigation, so you wouldn’t even have to use your phone if you don’t want to.
The previous two aren’t actually “CarPlay units”, but they are made to work with the iPhone. Not to worry though because a firmware update coming this summer will bring in the new platform into all of Pioneer’s NEX branded decks. The flagship unit that brings the CarPlay interface out of the box is the AVIC-8000NEX, which will be available at Future Shop soon. This one has everything the others do, with added power, features and connectivity options. If you want one of the best of the best in your vehicle, and are willing to spend to get it, this is the unit for you.