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Using iOS 7.1.1 in a Car with CarPlay

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In this article, Jason R. Rich explores how many of the world’s top auto makers are incorporating iPhone integration into their vehicles, and how this changes how a smartphone can safely be used while driving.
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We’re all constantly told that texting and driving is a bad (and potentially deadly) combination, and that holding a smartphone up to one’s ear while driving is a major distraction. Yet, as each of us becomes more reliant on our mobile devices and has the need to stay connected even when our attention should be elsewhere, it’s becoming harder and harder to simply put the iPhone away when operating a vehicle.

Apple, in conjunction with 16 popular car manufacturers, including Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Hyundai, Chevrolet, Ford, Jaguar, Nissan, and Toyota, has developed a new initiative called CarPlay, which allows some 2014 (or later) model year vehicles to be more iPhone compatible than ever before.

CarPlay typically works in conjunction with the in-dash infotainment system that’s being built into many new vehicles. It allows for a direct connection to be established between an Internet-connected iPhone and a vehicle via Apple’s proprietary Lightning connector. As a result, drivers can focus on the road while driving and still be able to use some of their iPhone’s most popular apps, features, and functions—all without taking their eyes off the road.

This iPhone interaction is accomplished by allowing the iPhone to be controlled by using voice commands and the use of interactive icons and menus displayed on a vehicle’s in-dash infotainment system’s screen. Special buttons or dials are also being built into the steering wheels and/or dashboards of some newer vehicles.

How this CarPlay technology is being incorporated into specific vehicle makes and models varies, but it is becoming more universal. The CarPlay technology allows for drivers to activate Siri on their iPhone (even when the iPhone is in a pocket, briefcase, or purse) in order to acquire driving directions (via the Maps app), answer or initiate calls using voice commands in conjunction with the Phone app, respond to or compose text messages or emails using voice commands in association with the Messages or Mail apps, plus control the Music app built into the iPhone in order to access and play music that’s stored on the device.

Control an iPhone’s Music App Remotely from Your Vehicle while Driving

In some cases, a vehicle’s own touch screen is used to operate an iPhone remotely. All of the music, personal Playlists, and Music app functions that are available directly from your iPhone can be enjoyed while driving within a CarPlay-compatible car. However, CarPlay also allows iPhone users to utilize their smartphone’s Internet connection in order to stream audio programming directly from the web, but play that audio through a car’s speakers.

This is accomplished using specialized CarPlay-compatible apps. While the Music app offers access to iTunes Radio (for streaming music and audio programming, like NPR), a growing selection of optional audio streaming apps, such as Podcasts, Beats Music, iHeartRadio, Spotify, and Stitcher, are also already compatible with iOS 7.1’s CarPlay feature.

In cases where specialized apps are operating on the iPhone but being controlled from the in-dash infotainment system’s screen, the icons and interface related to what’s displayed within the car’s display closely resembles the screen of the iPhone’s apps.

CarPlay Goes Well Beyond What Siri Eyes Free Previously Offered

As with Siri Eyes Free, when Siri functionality is used in conjunction with CarPlay, voice commands are accepted by the iPhone, which then responds to the driver’s requests, commands, or questions using its male or female voice. Thanks to iOS 7.1 improvements, the iPhone-generated voice sounds more human-like than before, and is easier to understand.

While you’re driving, nothing is displayed on the iPhone’s screen. In some cases, however, certain menus, data, and command icons are displayed on the touch-screen of a vehicle’s in-dash infotainment system. Otherwise, if a verbal request is made that requires content to be displayed on the iPhone’s screen, for safety reasons, this content is intentionally not accessible while driving.

In the past, some of this functionality was offered through iOS In The Car and Siri Eyes Free. However, it wasn’t until the release of iOS 7.1 that CarPlay was introduced and began offering a more universal way for an iPhone that’s being used within a vehicle to operate. Currently, CarPlay is accessible exclusively using the iPhone 5/5C/5S, but not older-model iPhones or the iPad.

How CarPlay Works

The focus of CarPlay is to offer a more integrated and seamless experience between the iPhone and a vehicle’s in-dash infotainment system within vehicles that have been specifically designed to offer this functionality. No Bluetooth receivers or accessories are required for an iPhone to establish a link with CarPlay-compatible vehicles. Instead, these vehicles are coming pre-equipped with a Lightning port jack built in.

Thus, a connection between the smartphone and vehicle is instantly established when the supplied Lightning connector cable is plugged into both the iPhone and the vehicle’s Lightning port—a process that takes just seconds. Because a cable connection is being utilized, the iPhone’s internal battery gets recharged when connected to the vehicle, and data between the iPhone and in-dash infotainment system can be exchanged quickly.

In terms of navigation, instead of relying on a costly GPS system that can be built into a vehicle (which is often a $1,500 or more option), the Location Services, GPS capabilities, and Maps app can be run from the iPhone, but be controlled from the vehicle. As a result, the iPhone can display maps and turn-by-turn directions on the screen of the vehicle’s in-dash infotainment system, and leverage the iPhone’s Internet connectivity to access real-time traffic conditions, for example.

Right now, CarPlay connectivity via the Lightning port is offered within 2014 model year vehicles from Ferrari, Mercedes-Bens, and Volvo. In the near future, the other car manufacturers will begin offering CarPlay compatibility within select vehicle models. However, many 2013 model year cars from Ford and Chevrolet, for example, already offer iOS In The Car and Siri Eyes Free functionality that utilizes a wireless Bluetooth connection between the vehicle and the smartphone.

What’s nice about CarPlay functionality is that the car manufacturers can build a Lightning port into their vehicles to allow for easy iPhone integration, but the integration will not quickly become obsolete when Apple releases new iPhone models or newer versions of the iOS. This is because most CarPlay functionality is actually run from the iPhone itself and does not rely heavily on programming or technology that’s built into the vehicle (beyond the in-dash infotainment system’s touch screen).

Final Thoughts

Now that the CarPlay technology exists and is quickly being adopted by multiple vehicle manufacturers, more and more third-party app developers will begin adopting or developing CarPlay-compatible apps that will soon introduce even greater iPhone functionality and capabilities that can be experienced safely while driving a vehicle.

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