The term “car stereo” doesn’t adequately describe what’s in the dash of most new cars. Over the past few years, what once was a simple music-making machine has transformed into a full-blown infotainment console with enough power to fly the Starship Enterprise. Today, even modest factory-installed units come with touchscreens and Bluetooth, but if you make the jump to an aftermarket deck, it can double as a backup camera monitor, a speakerphone, a navigational tool, or even a movie screen.
It’s absolutely worth enduring some growing pains to experience CarPlay.
For as fancy as today’s car stereos are, however, there’s one nut they’ve yet to crack: how to keep drivers’ eyes off of their phones and on the road. That’s where Apple’s CarPlay comes in. CarPlay is essentially iOS for your dashboard. By placing the most popular iPhone functions on a big screen right in the center of a car’s dashboard, and adding enhanced voice control and interaction through Siri, Apple aims to make using your iPhone while driving an easier and, more importantly, safer affair.
That’s the idea, anyway. Although the CarPlay demonstration I got in San Francisco last May was impressive, the technology was still in development, I didn’t get to push any buttons, and I got the feeling the version consumers would ultimately get would be further evolved, perhaps with more apps and more functions added. Turns out, that’s exactly what happened. So when Pioneer announced that its NEX-series in-dash receivers could finally be updated with CarPlay, I raced home, updated my deck, and hit the blacktop for a 6-hour road trip to put the system through the wringer. I learned that, despite a few bugs, CarPlay has the power to change what people expect from their in-car entertainment systems, and possibly even save a few lives.