Road Test and Review: Apple CarPlay iOS 14 – Siri Makeover and Speed Camera Warnings

Apple CarPlay on a 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS 63

By Kurt Stolz on 27 October 2020
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Apple recently released the latest version of its mobile operating system, iOS 14, which includes significant updates to Apple CarPlay, Apple’s in-vehicle infotainment system that functions as an extension of a driver’s iPhone.

We tested the latest version of Apple CarPlay over the course of a month with an Apple iPhone 12 Pro as well as with an iPhone 11 Pro. In our testing, we put it through its paces in several cars that support CarPlay including a 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS 6.3 which, incidentally, is powered by a fire-breathing 603-horsepower twin-turbo V-8.

CarPlay received a brand new user interface with iOS 13 and not much has changed on that front. The new UI offers a dual-pane dashboard view that we find more useful than the original single-pane version. The Task Switcher, introduced with iOS 10.3, remains on the far left, Apple Maps is on the left half of the screen, while the right-hand side is divided between upcoming turns, Siri suggestions, audio controls, phone controls, and calendar info. CarPlay also received support for wide-screen displays, and responsive and dynamically resizing Dashboard cards in iOS 13.4.

CarPlay in use in the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS 63

The updates for iOS 14 are less dramatic but of great importance, and focus on new wallpaper options, warnings for speed- and red light-cameras, and support for electric-vehicle charging and food ordering. Needless to say, Apple is rather coy in how it describes the speed-camera feature: “Mapslets you know when you’re approaching speed camerasand red‑light camerasalong your route so you can anticipate potential slowing trafficahead.”

Siri also gets a makeover and the iPhone gains the ability to act as a digital car key for supported vehicles with the update.

I was reminded of the speed-camera alert when Siri warned me of a camera I was approaching.  The feature only works when Maps is being used to provide navigation guidance.  Out of the blue, Siri said “20 mph speed camera ahead. Please drive carefully.” Although I was going significantly under the speed limit, I was nonetheless pleased to be reminded of the feature.

Choosing a background in CarPlay is easy.

While you can’t yet add your own background images, CarPlay now offers a choice of five colorful images (red/blue, blue/green, various shades of red, various shades of beige, and various shades of grey) as well as black-and-white and all-black background. Selecting your background is easy: Simply go to the settings app in CarPlay (introduced with iOS 13), and choose Wallpaper.

The new version of CarPlay supports two new categories of apps, EV charging and food ordering, but developers need to update their apps to support CarPlay before they will begin to trickle down into the ecosystem.

In addition, Siri got somewhat of a makeover in CarPlay under iOS 14. When summoned, rather than taking up the entire CarPlay screen, instead, we saw a colorful orb at the bottom of the screen whenever we summoned her (or him, depending on which Siri voice is selected) and the scaled-down size let us continue to view the app we were on as well.

CarPlay’s relatively new multi-pane user interface

Similarly, an incoming phone call no longer takes over the entire CarPlay screen; rather, a call comes in as a banner with controls, similar to how it appears in iOS 14 on an iPhone.

The last new feature we foundin the CarPlay update would be the new security dots that alert the user when an app is using the iPhone’s camera, microphone, or both.  The dot is orange when an app is actively using the mic, which would be for example whenever the phone is in use or when speaking to Siri, and is green when the camera is in use, a rare occurrence with CarPlay. The security dots are visible above the Task Switcher and below the time and reception status icon.

Finally, a new feature that’s not part of CarPlay but that is certainly related is Apple CarKey. Apple wants to replace the car key, which has grown in size from just a key to a small intelligent device over the past 20 years, with a smart and shareable digital key that resides in the iPhone.  The feature is first available on the 2021 BMW 5 Series, which was released in July.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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