Got a new iPhone 11? Go hands-on with iOS 13's major Apple CarPlay update

Apple's iOS 13 update includes a welcome overhaul of the CarPlay in-car infotainment system.

Andrew Krok Reviews Editor / Cars
Cars are Andrew's jam, as is strawberry. After spending years as a regular ol' car fanatic, he started working his way through the echelons of the automotive industry, starting out as social-media director of a small European-focused garage outside of Chicago. From there, he moved to the editorial side, penning several written features in Total 911 Magazine before becoming a full-time auto writer, first for a local Chicago outlet and then for CNET Cars.
Andrew Krok
4 min read
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Dark mode? CarPlay's had it for years. Light mode is the new hotness here.

Andrew Krok/Roadshow

Apple's new iOS 13 update is a big one, with all sorts of features that users have been begging for. It also marks the most thorough update of Apple CarPlay yet, with a revised look and a bunch of new features. Some are easy to pick up on, but others require a deeper dive. So, let's take a closer look at everything that's included in Thursday's iOS 13 update.

Watch this: Going hands-on with Apple's CarPlay update in iOS 13

New looks

The main CarPlay screen hasn't changed much; it's still loaded with the same apps you've come to enjoy using behind the wheel. However, the left menu bar has been rearranged, with the time and cell-network information in the top left and a replacement for the home button at the bottom -- after all, iPhones don't have home buttons anymore, so why should CarPlay?

That said, there's a second kind of home screen that is a bit more useful. The new "dashboard" displays several things at once, including Maps , music and smart suggestions, which can include pertinent calendar events or your garage, if it's equipped with HomeKit-based tech. It's accessed by clicking the icon that replaced the home button. This is great for multitaskers, since it'll reduce distraction by minimizing the amount of screen-switching needed.

Some apps have slight changes inside, too. The phone app, for example, now uses "bubbles" surrounding each instance of contacts or recent calls, to make it even easier to see delineation at a glance. Apple's own Music app now lets you see album art on the right side of the screen, with the play controls off to the left. When you speak a message to Siri , the messaging app now has little icons for each function, whether it's replaying your message or sending it.

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The new dashboard lets you take a look at several features at once, including quick-access navigation commands and what's currently playing through the speakers.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Siri's been given a bit of a makeover, as well. Instead of occupying the whole screen, the voice assistant's little waveform now overlays whatever screen is already active, so you can still take a look at whatever page you're on while Siri is processing your request.

Night mode is no longer the only aesthetic on offer for CarPlay. Now, you'll have the chance to have your CarPlay screen automatically switch between day and night modes, just like what many built-in infotainment systems already offer. There's no permanent day mode, but if you like your CarPlay dark, you can keep it in night mode all the time.

If your car has an atypically shaped screen, whether that means a portrait or ultrawide ratio, you might notice something else new with CarPlay. Apple now allows for dynamic scaling in CarPlay. Previously, it was limited to the usual display shape, but now, it will be able to add more rows or columns of home-screen apps based on the display's size. It's up to automakers to integrate it, though, since everyone uses different screens.

New features

Looks are only half of the equation. There are also a number of new features. I'll start with my favorite: Settings. While that might seem lame, the new Settings app is great. It lets you activate Do Not Disturb While Driving, in addition to letting you switch between day and night modes. The new app can also turn off the Siri-based suggestions on the new dashboard home screen, and it can remove album art if you're not into looking at album art for some reason.

Organized folks will enjoy the fact that Apple's Calendar app is now available in CarPlay. It's only for preexisting events -- you can't create anything in CarPlay, since it's about minimizing distraction and not about getting work done -- but it can push directions to Maps. Relevant calendar events can be shown on the dashboard, too.

Apple CarPlay iOS 13 Update
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Apple CarPlay iOS 13 Update

One automaker asked Apple to allow access to email from behind the wheel. Considering CarPlay is about reducing distraction and improving safety, you can imagine the tech giant's response.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Siri's been given more capability with the iOS 13 update, as well. It can now work with third-party navigation apps, so if you say something like, "Navigate to coffee using Google Maps ," it'll bring up coffee suggestions in Google Maps, rather than forcing you to use Apple's stuff. It's yet another addition that's meant to minimize distraction, even if you're not the biggest fan of Apple's native offerings. It'll also work with music apps like Spotify or Pandora.

Another new function eliminates a point of frustration that I, and likely many of you, have experienced multiple times. If CarPlay is active and your passenger opens your phone, the infotainment screen will no longer change apps or default to the home screen. Now, someone sitting shotgun can fiddle around with Spotify on the phone while Maps still delivers directions via the screen. It's fantastic.

Down to brass tacks

This is the best Apple CarPlay has been to date. The tech giant has offered its software to automakers to help reduce distraction and improve safety, and these updates reflect an even greater effort in that regard. It's still just as easy to use as it was before, if not a little bit easier. I'm already looking forward to it.

Best of all, you don't have to pay squat to get it. The iOS 13 update, like every other iOS update before it, will be free when it comes out in the fall. Vehicles don't need a software update or anything to take advantage of the new CarPlay layout, so once your phone is updated, your head unit will be good to go. 

Checking out the changes in iOS 13's Apple CarPlay update

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