iOS 16: The Revolution of Apple CarPlay – For Some

Apple CarPlay is evolving into something very exciting. During Apple‘s WWDC 2022 keynote they gave just under 4 minutes towards Apple CarPlay with a preview of what users can expect to see in its iOS 16 update for CarPlay. 

CarPlay in iOS 16 will see the platform evolve into something I was never expecting or seem possible, but it’s happening and I think it’s going to give CarPlay an exciting future for in-car infotainment systems.

Multi-Screen & Custom Instrument Cluster Support

Apple demonstrated an iOS 16 CarPlay multi-screen takeover of a 2023/24 vehicle’s display

First things first, what you see in their presentation will NOT be coming to a CarPlay system that is being driven today. What you see here, with its multiple displays, customisable instrument clusters, super wide wrap-around screens showing off widgets of trip information, calendar events and weather data; all of this jaw-dropping update will be coming to new vehicles that will be released in late 2023/2024 – so let’s take a breath, calm down and plant our feet firmly into the ground, for now. 

Current announced partners of Apple’s multi-display in-car platform

Apple has partnered with a number of major players in the auto industry to bring what I believe will be a new universal automotive infotainment platform, a little similar to their collaboration with Google and other smart homemakers and their underlying platform called ’Matter’ for smart home hardware.

Multiple instrument cluster designs coming to new supported vehicles with iOS 16

Whatever Apple calls this underlying platform, it will allow automakers to build their vehicles to allow Apple full control of a vehicle’s data and multiple displays to allow CarPlay to expand its reach beyond not just the single CarPlay display screen that we see today. I believe some cars driving today WILL soon see a small taste of this integration, thanks to Apple allowing other developers access to a particular existing CarPlay feature in iOS 16. 

Third-Party Access to Instrument Cluster Display

2023/24 Instrument Cluster Display, but expect third-party map support in older vehicles

If you drive a fairly modern CarPlay-enabled vehicle today, there is a chance that in the centre of your instrument cluster you have seen CarPlay data, such as turn-by-turn navigation from Apple Maps, appear on this display. Currently, this only works for Apple’s own Maps app, but in iOS 16 I believe we will see this be offered to developers of alternative navigation apps too. 

Similar to how Apple kept the Home Screen navigation panel all to themselves for at least a year, Apple will allow other navigation apps, like Google Maps and Waze, to send directions and metadata to the instrument cluster display in iOS 16. But just like the restrictions for the CarPlay Home Screen dashboard, it might be a number of months after its release in September or October before we see developers of third-party navigation apps implement this new feature into their apps for iOS16.

So What Will Existing CarPlay Owners Get in iOS16?

iOS 16 home screen has a side dock removed on a landscape display, with the status bar floating inside, in this concept

Other than third-party navigation in the instrument cluster in modern cars, we owners of current CarPlay vehicles have to look at what differences were presented in the main central CarPlay display during Apple’s preview of iOS16 for CarPlay.

Updated Dock

The first is the dock. We already have the CarPlay dock spanning the height of the left or right-hand side edges of the CarPlay display, or in vehicles with portrait CarPlay displays, you may have it running along the bottom. In iOS16, it looks like Apple will be making some major adjustments and behaviours to the CarPlay dock in their next update. 

Throughout Apple’s presentation of CarPlay in iOS16, we only see a horizontal dock on its main CarPlay display, and this is on a landscape ratio display that would usually show a side dock if it was on iOS15. I personally think this was maybe a nicer way to present the new update and that smaller displays will continue to show the left or right side dock. But inside the dock, Apple has made some further subtle changes, which could see its location change entirely for all screen sizes.

Updated lower dock shows new focus mode, system control buttons, and removal of the side dock on a landscape display

In iOS16 for CarPlay, we see the time, battery and signal metadata has now been removed from the dock to make way for some new dynamic controls to adjust car-specific controls, such as seat temperature or climate controls in supported compatible cars. 

We see the same app menu view button to the middle left of the dock and there is a new focus mode button on the middle right side of the dock. A new fourth car system select button joins the three last used app icons, which is likely to be used to select which car system-based control you can adjust via the two dynamic toggle controls on either side of the dock. 

New Status Bar

With the time, signal and battery metadata removed from the dock, we see Apple has repositioned them at the top of the display, and they also hover over the chosen background wallpaper, just like on your iPhone. We don’t yet know if this treatment and position will also work alongside the original side dock, for smaller displays, or if this is how it will now be displayed across all screen sizes.

On one Home Screen example, Apple shows this new status bar contained inside the main radio player app – it does not overlay the new weather app panel that sits to the right of it. This makes me feel we could see this same status bar on smaller screens too, along with a more permanent horizontal dock. There is room for all this on smaller screen displays, and it allows CarPlay to show more app icons this way too, which helps to also reduce interactions with less screen swiping between pages.

Updated Home Screen & Panel Widgets

Updated home screen for verticle displays, note right side weather widget panel

The Home Screen has changed a little too. Throughout most of the CarPlay presentation, the display is shown in home screen mode. Only once at the beginning do we see the app icon screen – and when we do, the Apple designers forgot to swap the dock icon button for the Home Screen icon – Oops! 

It looks like in iOS16 we will see the Home Screen get even more customisable options, with at least a new widget panel for weather, as well as the usual navigation and ‘Now Playing’ control panels. There was no sign of the Siri suggestions or the nav contextual panels from today’s CarPlay Home Screen. So seeing that I personally dislike and don’t use or look at these two panels on the Home Screen, I welcome that decision, but I am sure Apple will retroactively allow these panel options also in the new Home Screen. 

The new weather panel looks to mirror the same layout as the iPhone app itself, with current location and temperature, outlook, high and low temperatures and a horizontal 5-hour forecast for the day. That’s all the info you need whilst driving, except for a toggle to view a destination’s location weather. Hopefully, Apple allows you to swipe between saved locations on this panel.

New CarPlay App Categories

Driving task and Fueling apps joining the six other CarPlay app categories

Apple will also be allowing two new app categories for CarPlay. The first is Fueling apps. Similar to the EV category of apps, this will allow developers of alternative fuel tracking apps on CarPlay. So expect petrol pricing comparison and location apps to be released once iOS16 is launched.

The second new app category is Driving task apps. This category appears to be a little broader as to what apps we can expect in this category. To quote Apple’s app guidelines: “Driving task apps must enable tasks people need to do while driving. Tasks must actually help with the drive, not just be tasks that are done while driving.”

Apple offers some very lightweight, single-screen examples of apps that work with car-based hardware, such as a trailer height adjustment app or an app that displays tire pressures, to apps that drivers may want to access, such as monitoring how many people you’re transporting in the vehicle, to which type of trip the drive is for in company cars.

This second category opens the doors to many other apps to appear on CarPlay, so I would expect a larger variety of apps to appear on the App Store, soon after iOS16 has launched. 

New Ways to View CarPlay Apps

New CarPlay Simulator app for iOS 16 app Xcode development

Apple has now launched a CarPlay simulator for its app development tool on the Mac. Developers can now plug in their iPhone to the Mac and run this simulator for faster debugging and development of CarPlay apps. 

This also gives anyone an easier way to view and demo CarPlay apps without jumping into a car or using the less optimised Xcode simulator. Anyone can run this simulator on the Mac (although an iPhone running iOS 16 beta is required) and it’s a good way to check out CarPlay apps without draining a car’s battery. 

This will work extremely well for previewing and viewing CarPlay apps with multiple display support too. So in short, this might be a much cheaper way than buying a whole new car if you want to see how CarPlay behaves along with multiple displays and resolutions in the car.

Apple App Updates in iOS 16

To reduce time in generating and sending messages through Siri, messages can now be automatically sent after they have been read back to you. There is still a change button on-screen but without any interaction, your message will be sent automatically without any further physical interaction.

The Podcast app has had some changes also. A new library has been added that now allows you to find the latest episodes and browse saved podcasts that you follow.

The Long Wait for Revolution Begins

Start saving for that 2023/24 car for full CarPlay immersion

This is a positive new direction for CarPlay, and I am sure we will see it evolve over the coming months, ahead of its final public release at the end of this year. Right now Beta 1 shows only changes in Apple app functionality, none of the traits mentioned above is present right now.

Those seeking a full takeover of CarPlay customisation for multi-displays and instrument clusters are in for a much longer wait. With supported vehicles not releasing until the end of 2023, it won’t be until we are well into 2024 before we see this being early adopted and used more commonly in new vehicles.

I am sure some automakers are a little hesitant on how much control Apple is allowed, as it will cast the automaker’s own visual displays and prompts to the side, but one thing’s for sure, I feel that the whole car industry needs a boost in its infotainment and instrument design such as this to breathe new life into today’s car infotainment and displays, and who better than Apple’s own design team that can attempt to try to achieve this.

If their vision that was presented at this year’s WWDC is anything to go by, CarPlay fans are in for a real treat over the next few years. So we best start saving for that 2024 car right now! 

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