Roberto BaldwinCar and Driver
- Apple has updated CarPlay to its iOS 14, which has new electric-vehicle-focused features and Siri enhancements.
- The new EV routing feature doesn’t work with any vehicles currently on the road, however, making it impossible to test.
- Apple’s Siri gets a needed upgrade but still obscures navigation while reading and composing text messages.
When Apple unveiled CarPlay six years ago, for many it brought a useful, familiar interface to their vehicles. Automaker infotainment systems at that time were, for the most part, bad. Manufacturers’ systems felt like an afterthought, tossed in with navigation that required paid updates and an auxiliary or Bluetooth connection for phone and media player hookups. Worst of all, they were difficult to actually use and painfully slow. The flip side to that was that CarPlay worked as advertised. It offered mapping and turn-by-turn navigation that was always connected and typically was an easy setup.
In the past six years, though, automakers have caught up. Infotainment systems are now easier to navigate, easier to set up, and have voice assistants that rival Apple’s Siri. With the launch of iOS 14, Apple is hoping to keep up with the automakers and regain some of the users who only plug in their iPhone to charge it while driving. Overall, iOS 14’s CarPlay is better than ever, but it also suffers from the same issues it had before—and one of the biggest features it touted doesn’t currently work in the real world.
For the latest version of its in-car system, Apple is trying to win back CarPlay users to Apple’s Map app who are using Google Maps instead of the iPhone maker’s own navigation. Apple Maps launched to ridicule years ago, and it has been trying to get over that ever since. Using Apple Maps for a week, I never experienced the issues I had before with the system sending to the wrong destination. In fact, it performed better than Google Maps in a few instances. (For some reason, Google seems to think the off-ramp near my house doesn’t actually exist.)
During the unveiling of the updated CarPlay at Apple’s World-Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) event earlier this fall, the company announced EV routing. Users with electric cars could use Apple Maps to plot a route and the system would add necessary charging stations to that path. It sounds great. Sadly it doesn’t seem to actually work on any vehicles currently on the road. Apple says it works with BMW and Ford for the feature. BMW told Car and Driver that it will be available with the upcoming 2022 i4 (out sometime next year), and Ford said the feature would work with the upcoming 2021 Mustang Mach-E, which is set to go on sale by the end of 2020. We have reached out to Apple and to Apple Support for a list of compatible vehicles without success.
The CarPlay charging station function for EVs is something that does work well. When you press the Search bar in Apple Maps, you’re given the option of charging stations, and a quick tap shows all available stations in the area. Plus you can use Siri to add a station along your route. It’s not what Apple promised, but it’s something until the company expands its EV routing compatibility or the i4 and Mach-E hit the market.
Beyond the world of EVs, the updated Apple Maps app also now supports drivers sending an ETA to those in their contact list. It’s easier than updating someone you’re about to meet every time you encounter unexpected traffic.
Voice control has become all the rage in vehicles, and it’s hard not to see Apple, Google, and Amazon’s Alexa as the reasons for this. Apple’s Siri essentially does what it always has done: help set navigation, send text messages, and launch apps and other services. Previously that meant that, when enabled, Siri’s glowing orb would overtake the entire screen while in use—an annoyance that would cover up important things like navigation. Apple has instead adjusted Siri’s “I’m working on it” animation to sit atop what’s on the screen. That’s great except, for some reason, they didn’t fix that issue for text messages. That can be especially annoying if you’re in the middle of turn-by-turn navigation and want to listen to or reply to a text message. It’s a weird oversight for a feature that’s been fixed in every other use case.
While still on the messaging features of Siri and CarPlay, drivers can now send audio messages. This is especially helpful if Siri’s translation to text of your voice isn’t always 100 percent. Sending your actual voice to a contact could reduce the embarrassment of a misheard message about going to visit the ducks.
Backgrounds and New Types of Apps
Apple added a new preference that gives drivers the ability to change the system’s background color scheme. It’s not exactly customization, but the five backgrounds are a start.
Apple also expanded the types of apps that developers can build for CarPlay. It now includes parking, quick food ordering, and EV charging-station apps. Why EV charging station apps weren’t available before is a bit of a conundrum considering that most of them use a mapping system to guide drivers to stations, and having that in the infotainment screen instead of your phone screen would have been useful for the past few years. The good news is that that they are coming as soon as developers port them to Apple’s system.
As a whole, Apple’s latest version of CarPlay is a modest improvement for those with gas-powered vehicles and a welcome upgrade for those with EVs. Sadly, the best EV feature doesn’t work with anything that’s on the road yet, but the EV charging apps and Apple Maps EV charging station search almost make up for Siri still obscuring turn-by-turn directions while dictating a text message.
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