What’s new and improved in Apple CarPlay on iOS 13

iOS 13 finally releases to all compatible iPhones starting tomorrow 20th September 2019. Many have already signed up to the Public Beta or Developer Beta of the upcoming iOS update, but for those who are less technically savvy, tomorrow you will be able to freely download and update your iPhone to the new iOS 13.

iOS 13 brings the biggest update to Apple CarPlay since the very first release of Apple’s in-car entertainment platform. So with the imminent release of the update, let me bring you an overview of the best features I like since using iOS 13 over the past few months.

All new iOS 13 Dashboard

The most striking difference when you first use your iOS 13 enabled iPhone with Apple CarPlay is the new dashboard interface. You’ll notice some familiarity with iOS 12, such as the side dock, its time and signal bars and recent app icons, but everything else has been reworked by Apple’s CarPlay design team.

Beside the dock, the Dashboard is split into three or four panels. The main larger window is always used for, currently, Apple Maps. This panel will display your current GPS position, and if any navigation is activated, it will show directions. Tapping this panel takes you into Apple Maps itself.

The other two or three panels are reserved for either Now Playing, Siri Shortcuts, additional options for navigation (such as home and work locations) and directions from Apple Maps. You can turn off Siri Shortcuts in the new Settings app in Apple CarPlay, which will reduce three panels down to two.

New Home button

Located at the bottom of the side dock is the new home button. No longer is it a round circle, it now displays one of two modes of this new home button. This depends on where in the Apple CarPlay menus you are. If you are viewing an app in CarPlay or you are on the main Dashboard screen, the home icon will show the app home screen icon, with its 8 icon logo. If you are already on the home screen, it will show the dashboard icon. This clearly shows where you will go to when the specific home button is pressed.

You can continue to press and hold the home button to invoke Siri.

New Settings app

There is a new Settings App icon on the homescreen. Pressing this will display a list of options to customise your CarPlay experience. From here you can toggle Do Not Disturb While Driving mode on and off, toggle the display of Album Art, toggle Siri Suggestions on the Dashboard and change the Appearance of Apple CarPlay from Automatic or Always Dark mode.

iOS 13 also includes updates in the CarPlay area in the General iPhone Settings app. Bringing a better list of apps to hide and show on Apple CarPlay and well as better reordering of apps on the homescreen.

New Dark Mode

For all you lovers of Apple’s new Dark mode in its macOS you can now carry this look over on your Apple CarPlay display. In the Settings app you can toggle Dark mode to be permanent, or have it automatically switch between its default lite mode in the day and Dark mode at night or when your headlights are turned on.

The Dark Mode is great for nighttime driving. If you suffer from the CarPlay display being too bright at night time, then get iOS 13 on your iPhone and toggle Dark mode on. It should hopefully reduce this issue considerably for you.

Share ETA in Apple Maps

Currently iOS 13 only allows Apple Maps to display on the new dashboard screen, but this should all change once app developers have updated their apps to support it. For now though, you have to live with Apple Maps displaying in the large panel of the Dashboard. Apple has continued to improve Apple Maps and it has added a great new feature to its CarPlay menus in iOS 13.

Tapping on the bottom draw whilst in navigation mode, you can select the Share ETA option to open up the ability to share the estimated time of arrival with someone in your contacts. Once shared with a selection of people, they will receive an SMS or an iMessage along with Find My Friends data of your journey progress, including any updates on delays if you encounter them along the way.

New Calendar app

The bane of updating events in your iOS Calendar app has been lifted, thanks to the inclusion of the Calendar app on the CarPlay homescreen. Launching the Calendar on Apple CarPlay brings up a list of events for the day. Selecting one will display any more information you have entered for the event, and if it has a location attached to it, you can launch directions via Apple Maps straight from menu.

When using Siri, you can also use this display to select the event you wish to update when Siri asks you, which is great when you have events overlapping at the same time and Siri isn’t recognising the event name when you speak it – an issue I regularly encounter.

Album art

A common request from CarPlay users is displaying Album Art on the Now Playing screen. Apple has listened and delivered in spades here. Not only is Album Art present on the Now Playing screen, they have fitted it inside the smaller Now Playing panel on the dashboard too. It’s an aesthetic improvement for anyone desiring this new feature, however if you don’t like it and want to return to how it once was, you can turn this feature off in the CarPlay Settings app.

Siri Shortcuts/Suggestions

If you have created certain Siri shortcuts or HomeKit automations, these also display on the iOS 13 dashboard. From the small panel on your dashboard you can trigger HomeKit events, such as raising a garage door, from your CarPlay display.

As Apple improve on its HomeKit services, I am sure we will see this area grow and improve. So far though, it feels a little limited on its offerings and customisation of what smart devices you can control from the CarPlay screen.

Improved menus and UI

Overall, iOS 13 for Apple CarPlay brings a whole new lick of paint on top of its older offerings. Careful thought has been made in updating the look and display of its list views. Meaning bigger buttons, animations, the previously mentioned Dark Mode, and a more unified look and tab system, that generally makes each new app that has been updated for iOS 13 look fresh and new.

Over time we should see developers improve their apps with iOS 13 CarPlay UI support. Since the Beta rollout, some of my regular apps have already been improved for CarPlay in iOS 13, including Spotify, Acast, Waze and Google Maps.

Is there more to come?

I hope Apple doesn’t stop here and we have to wait another few years until the next update for Apple CarPlay. I would expect this is how CarPlay will look for at least a few years, but I do hope Apple has given Apple CarPlay the foundations to grow and improve on particular areas, such as the dashboard.

The dashboard can be certainly be improved upon. Support for alternative navigation apps on the dashboard would be my first request. Secondly, to be able to customise what and which panel displays. It seems a waste to display navigation shortcuts in its own panel, where you could display them over the map view whilst it is not navigating. This would free up space to display other things, such as weather, alerts from non Carplay apps, or a bigger Now Playing view with additional metadata or controls.

Let’s hope Apple continues to listen and improve CarPlay over the next year, but for now, this is certainly a big improvement over previous versions and if you have a compatible iPhone that supports iOS 13, then I would get the update downloaded as soon as its available, from tomorrow.

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