We’ve been hearing about Apple’s CarPlay for ages, but we’ve never really had a chance here in Singapore since it wasn’t readily available. Volkswagen changes that with their new SportsVan and Passat, which are the first two mass-market cars we know of to carry CarPlay natively.
Sure, some manufacturers such as Pioneer have a few in-car entertainment systems with CarPlay, but they required you to rip up your current centre console just to install. We took a brand new SportsVan out for a couple of days, and this is what we experienced with Apple’s car-centric OS.
APPLE IN YOUR CAR
CarPlay’s appeal is simple: to replicate the same user experience you get on your iPhone in you car.
VW’s unit also comes with Android Auto compatibility, but we’re here to talk about CarPlay, so let’s stick with that for now. Android Auto isn’t officially available on smartphones yet anyway.
AN HONEST APP-RAISAL
Getting started is really simple – just connect your iPhone to the car’s USB port via lightning cable, and set it up once by going to App-Connect on VW’s native system. Every time after that, the car takes care of the rest once you plug in. It’s not as convenient as Bluetooth, but hey, at least it charges your phone as well.
You can choose to operate the system via the car’s touchscreen or your iPhone itself, with both displays mirroring the same app on CarPlay. This means you can’t have two different apps open at the same time. For example, you can’t have your photos on one and Spotify on the other.
However, out of the dozens of apps I had on my phone, only eight were CarPlay-enabled, with one Volkswagen app. It’s not a big issue though, since CarPlay at least covers the most important parts of your journey – namely navigation and music.
What you do get are Phone, Music, Maps (yes, the Apple one), Messages, Now Playing, Podcasts, Audiobooks, and Spotify. Ok, you’ll probably never use Podcasts and Audiobooks, and I’m sure you’d rather have WhatsApp or Line over Messages, but you’re not supposed fiddle around too much with your car while driving, anyway.
Do note that everything you do on CarPlay uses data, so in this case, maybe less is more if you don’t want to break the bank on your mobile bill.
Speaking of data, you’ll also need it to use Siri, which is one of the cornerstone features of CarPlay. Instead of poking and prodding at your phone or centre console, all you have to do is say “Hey Siri” to voice command your way around like a boss.
Primarily, you can use it to stream or play your selected playlist or artist on Apple Music. Sadly, there’s no Spotify support for Siri yet, so you’ll have to make do for now. Otherwise, you can also ask Maps to take you somewhere (more on that later), or call your friends, and have everything appear on the nice big screen provided by VW.
TAP THE MAP APP
Much was said about Apple Maps in its infancy, with people around the world making fun of the copious amount of bugs. It’s been greatly improved since then though, with much more accurate mapping, routing, and address recognition.
For a start, the car’s touchscreen provides a clear view of where you need to go with voice instructions to keep you on track. At the same time, there’s Continuity that automatically populates Apple Maps with any recent addresses you receive via Messages or Mail, saving you the hassle of searching for them to copy and paste.
Pulling up an address also provides its user rating on Yelp, though we’re sure not many people use that here. It’s something, at least.
It still falls short when compared to its most-used competitor, Google Maps, though. It failed to find public transport routes to more remote locations in Singapore such as Mandai, while Google managed to dig up three, on top of Uber integration. Apple’s offering also doesn’t factor traffic conditions into your travel time or route to avoid jams.
MERRILY DOWN THE STREAM
The app you’ll probably use the most on CarPlay is Spotify, provided you already have a premium account. You’ll need it for the offline play feature, unless you have an unlimited data plan or very deep pockets.
The CarPlay version is limited to just Your Music and a portion of the usual Browse options, but again, it’s meant for simple use-on-the-go without distracting you from driving. For some reason, Now Playing only displays a giant Play button instead of some nice album art, which is quite a waste of the screen real estate.
The stream itself is loud and clear, and you have the option of skipping through tracks either via buttons on the SportsVan’s steering wheel, touchscreen display, or your iPhone itself. It’s really quite convenient, and easily one of the best music experiences you can have in an automobile.
APPLE CARPLAY VERDICT
It’s still very early days for CarPlay, with not many apps supported on the system yet. There isn’t even a category in the App Store for you to find CarPlay-enabled apps.
If anything, it covers all your basic drive needs already, namely navigation and music, albeit the navigation aspect could be better.
If ever the rumoured Apple Car becomes official, CarPlay is bound to get a good boost. But till then, it’s best described as good to have in your car, yet not essential, especially if it involves buying a separate system and installing it in place of your current one.
Good thing VW’s SportsVan and Passat are good enough all on their own already, with CarPlay being an added bonus.