Tech

Apple's big iPhone update brings a lot of changes to CarPlay, here's a look at what's new

Key Points
  • With iOS 13, Apple gave CarPlay a big upgrade.
  • CarPlay is available in lots of new cars and lets you connect your iPhone to interact with Apple Maps, Spotify and other apps.
  • The new Dashboard allows you to see your navigation and music at the same time.
  • Apple fixed a lot of the behavior that made CarPlay frustrating in earlier versions.
CarPlay in iOS 13
Apple

Even though I review a lot of cars for CNBC, a lot of people were surprised to hear that I didn't use Apple CarPlay very much.

If you're unfamiliar: CarPlay lets you plug in an iPhone into your car and bring up your apps on the in-dash screen. It's similar to Google's version, called Android Auto, and ships in most new cars. In the past, a few usability quirks have annoyed me enough to give up on the whole concept.

With iOS 13, Apple fixed the software's earlier problems and catapulted CarPlay into being a must-have technology for me.

Here's a peek at what's new in iOS 13 and why I like using CarPlay now.

The big change: Dashboard

Dashboard in CarPlay on iOS 13 shows your maps, calendar, music and more.

The biggest issue in past versions of CarPlay was that, unlike the best in-car infotainment systems, you couldn't have your navigation and multimedia information up at the same time. If you were listening to a shuffled playlist and on a road trip, you could either see where you were going or what you were listening to. Never both at once.

iOS 13 has a new Dashboard feature that solves that problem. It shows your map on the left and then other relevant information on the right. It'll show you controls and track information for your music while also providing an extra info courtesy of Siri, like how far you are from home or what's next on your calendar. One issue I still have: Dashboard only shows Apple Maps, so you have to use that and not Google Maps to get the information on this screen.

You can still use Google Maps in CarPlay, of course, but just not in this viewing mode. But, there are a lot of improvements to Apple Maps, so you may want to use that more anyway.

Apple Maps is great

The new Apple Maps in CarPlay on iOS 13.
Apple

Apple has been launching a completely new version of Apple Maps that it built from the ground up. It's available in Europe and in the US. So far, much of the west, south and east coast have been updated with more accurate depictions of roads, points of interest like rest stops and restaurants, better navigation, indications of stop lights and much more. It's just a far better experience than before, especially in the car, and Apple says it plans to cover the with its new maps by the end of the year. (There are other upgrades, like 

Apple Maps now has a new favorites menu for quickly selecting frequent destinations, a new interface with more detailed maps and 3D buildings, flight tracking, better voice guidance and a higher contrast street layout that makes visual navigation easier. Some of this is only available on your phone, but I found the directions to be excellent while driving, though Google Maps sometimes still gets traffic better. One time, for example, Apple told me it would only take me 45 minutes to get home in traffic, and it took more like an hour and fifteen minutes. Google's better at the ETA still, I think.

Apple Maps also doesn't call out speed traps like Waze, but it's finally good enough that you won't mind using it. Plus, Apple doesn't store your location information like Google does, so there's a privacy bonus.

Freedom to use your phone

CarPlay in iOS 13 lets you use your phone or your car panel to answer texts.
Apple

You're more free to use your phone while it's connected to CarPlay now, too.

Here's what it used to be like: You're in the car with your friend using CarPlay for directions. You ask your passenger to queue a song on Spotify. As soon as they leave the Google Maps or Apple Maps app, your navigation screen disappears and Spotify opens on your infotainment screen. Or, you arrive to pick someone up and go to text them while the car is parked. As soon as you open Messages, Siri starts blurting out your messages. There was no way to have a parked driver or passenger use Messages without the music pausing and Siri trying to blabber on until you hit the cancel button. It drove me nuts.

That doesn't happen anymore.

Now, CarPlay is decoupled from the actual on-screen content of the iPhone. You can have a passenger queue songs, look up restaurants or send a text without losing your navigation display. It's a major — and desperately needed — fix for CarPlay, and I love it.

The other stuff

Easily control your music in CarPlay with iOS 13.

The freedom to use your phone and the Dashboard display are definitely the biggest changes, but CarPlay also gets a few more quality-of-life enhancements. While CarPlay has historically been black and gray, there's now a Light Mode theme to change things up and make the experience brighter, which I like.

Plus, Apple Music gets a new look that focuses on albums and is easier to navigate while on the move. Apple Calendar now supports CarPlay, too, so you can map out your day and navigate to locations that are stored in your appointments.

Finally, Siri gets some big upgrades that help out with CarPlay. First, calling up Siri no longer takes over the whole screen. Instead, a little voice display runs along the bottom of whatever app you're using. Most importantly, Apple will now allow developers to implement Siri commands for third-party apps. That means, soon, you should be able to ask Siri to play your Spotify playlist. Previously, you were forced to use Apple Music.

How to get the new CarPlay

The new Dashboard mode in CarPlay.
Mack Hogan | CNBC

All of this is free and it's included in iOS 13. So to get it, all you need is a car that supports CarPlay, a Lightning cable to plug into the car, and a phone that's been updated to iOS 13

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