Installing Apple CarPlay and taking it for spin

Pioneer aftermarket unit is first with iPhone interface

Published: October 02, 2014 05:00 PM

Apple iOS fans anxiously awaiting CarPlay can stop holding their breath. As of today, the long awaited and much hyped iPhone vehicle integration is finally available—and you don’t have to buy a new car to get it.

In fact, unless you’ve budgeted about $300,000 for a Ferrari FF, the only way to experience CarPlay for the time being is to buy a compatible aftermarket receiver from Pioneer. That’s exactly what we did back in July, when we had it installed in our Volkswagen Jetta test car. This morning, we downloaded the free firmware update from Pioneer, as soon as we got word CarPlay functionality was available.

So, what do we think? Based on our early impressions, CarPlay seems pretty cool. More importantly, its simple menus, easy navigation, and excellent Siri voice command integration can reduce driver distraction.

As handy as Siri’s natural speech recognition is when you’re just walking around with your phone, it really comes into its own in the car. Siri makes it easy to choose music, get directions, and read or send text messages—all by using your voice with natural speech, rather than menu-driven, formulaic commands.

In fact, our Pioneer AVIC-5000NEX doesn’t even give you the option of looking at a text message on screen, yet alone typing one. It’s voice or nothing. And that, we think, is a good thing.  

You can even leave voice messages to yourself, such as “remind me to take out the garbage when I get home.” Using the phone’s built-in GPS, Siri will remind you when you pull into the driveway.

Siri aside, CarPlay also supports a host of selected apps, including Beats Music, iHeartRadio, Spotify, Stitcher, Major League Baseball, and CBS Radio for news. More apps are coming soon, but Apple hasn’t announced what those might be.  

Access to any of CarPlay’s features is easy, either by pressing the voice command button on the steering wheel (thanks to an adaptor) to get Siri’s attention, or by tapping any of the big feature or app icons on the Pioneer’s 6.1-inch screen.  

Updating our AVIC-5000NEX was a snap. We simply went to Pioneer’s web site, downloaded the update onto a thumb drive, plugged that into the USB port on our NEX, and waited. A Pioneer rep said it should take about 5 minutes, but ours took closer to 20. (If installing it yourself, be patient.) New units have begun shipping with CarPlay ready to go.

One of six Pioneer receivers available with CarPlay, our NEX-5000 was priced at $750, but the total outlay came to $1127.50 once various adapters, taxes, and installation were factored in. While that’s not inexpensive, the unit also includes its own built-in navigation, a CD/DVD player, and a satellite-ready radio receiver. Plus, it is also an easy way to update an older vehicle with newer features, such as Bluetooth connectivity.

For new car buyers in the market for something other than a Ferrari, the wait continues. But CarPlay will be widely available before long. According to the Apple website, almost 30 carmakers have signed on, with Honda, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo and others all promising models with CarPlay soon.

—Jim Travers

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