Apple CarPlay: BMW rolls out paid subscription model

Published: 23 July 2019

► What is Apple CarPlay?
► How it works, what it costs

► Will your car sync with CarPlay?

Smartphones are the most connected, personalised piece of technology we own, so when we jump into a car, things can be a bit jarring. Despite what car manufacturers say, vehicle infotainment systems just aren’t as familiar or intuitive as your own iPhone – and unless you’ve worked out how to sync the two, they won’t contain your personal information and data, either.

Apple CarPlay is a way of connecting your iPhone and everything it contains to your car’s infotainment screen. When Apple CarPlay is active, your car’s display will look a lot like your existing iPhone held on its side, and will show CarPlay compatible apps on your homescreen, such as Spotify, Google Maps and WhatsApp. You’ll even find a very Apple-style home button to the side of the screen.

How much does Apple CarPlay cost?

Apple CarPlay tends to come as a standard piece of software in most cars in 2019 – we're even seeing it fitted as standard in budget C-segment and B-segment family cars, too. After all, it's a way of providing an easy tech-win for young, connected customers.

However, in July 2019 BMW announced a new price plan that quietly ushered in a monthly payment in addition to any installation cost. All BMWs with iDrive 7.0 will come with a year's free subscription to use Apple CarPlay, but after that you'll need to pay £85 annually if you want to use the hitherto free functionality. Every new BMW launched from 2018's X5 onwards now comes with iDrive 7.0; it's fitted to 65% of all current models, and will eventually be fitted to everything. 

BMW is offering a further two tariffs: £255 for three years or £295 for a lifetime subscription. It's important to remember that this isn't the case with pretty much any other car maker – just BMW. Still, it’s always worth haggling with a salesman if you are buying a new car, as they may throw in some more subscription time for free. 

Carry on reading for our backgrounder on the Apple connectivity system for cars.

How does Apple CarPlay work? Is it easy to set up?

CarPlay is something that has to be certified by Apple, and that means you’ll have a near-identical experience in any car that has it. It's just the screen that'll be different. Almost every car with CarPlay certification simply requires you to plug in your iPhone via USB.

Got an Android phone? Read our Android Auto guide here

Once you do, you’ll be asked if you want to activate Apple CarPlay automatically there and then, or access it later via your menus. Some systems will also ask if you want CarPlay to activate automatically every time you connect your Apple smartphone.

Some new cars, such as the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class, also feature wireless Apple CarPlay, so you won’t even need a cable. They connect instead over Bluetooth.

Google Maps now added

Even if you’ve got an iPhone, there’s a very high chance you use Google Maps – and that’s because Apple Maps really isn’t great. And while it’s easy to use Google’s map service when you’re on your iPhone, when you’re using Apple CarPlay, you’re forced to stock with Apple’s own hit-and-miss navigation service. 

Well, that is, until now; iOS 12, Apple’s latest update for current iPhones, will let you use Google Maps with Apple CarPlay. That might not sound like a huge deal, but if you’re an iPhone Google Maps user, it will make using Apple CarPlay a far more familiar experience – and probably a more accurate one, too.

Is my car CarPlay compatible?

If your car is relatively new, chances are it’ll have Apple CarPlay - and you’ll have been told about it, too. If not, Apple has published this exhaustive list for you.

If your car isn’t on that list, you can still get Apple CarPlay via an aftermarket infotainment system. Alpine, Clarion, JVC, Kenwood, Pioneer and Sony also make CarPlay-certified systems. Expect to pay something like £300 or more for a third-party system that supports the technology.  

Is my iPhone CarPlay compatible?

If you have a non-Apple phone, you should’ve guessed by now that it won’t work with Apple CarPlay. We’re surprised you got this far, to be honest. If you own an Android phone, you’ll be looking for Android Auto connectivity instead.

However, even if you have an iPhone, you’ll need to make sure it’s new enough to be compatible with your car. Below you’ll find a list of all the iPhones currently available with Apple CarPlay:

  • iPhone X
  • iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus
  • iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus
  • iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus
  • iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus
  • iPhone SE, iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5

So, is Apple CarPlay worth it?

Unlike head-up display (HUD) technology, Apple CarPlay is a far more subjective piece of technology; and its usefulness will largely depend on how you use your iPhone, the sort of media you consume in your car – and if you’re that tech-savvy.

For people who dislike the infotainment systems in their cars, Apple CarPlay is a magic bullet, and provides a largely intuitive, familiar interface. And it comes with all your contacts and music already nested in your car too.

But if you’re already used to your car’s infotainment system, happy with its sat-nav, its music streaming capability and its ability to make phonecalls – you’ll find less benefit to Apple CarPlay.

How much does it cost? Apple CarPlay prices and costs

Thankfully, in most cars nowadays, Apple CarPlay comes as a standard piece of equipment, so you won’t necessarily find yourself shelling out for it.

But some manufacturers like BMW still charge a premium for hardware fitment; Apple CarPlay preparation on a 1-series costs £235 in the UK at the time of writing. It’s always worth haggling with a salesman, as they may throw in the Apple connectivity if you ask for a discount.

If you want to Apple CarPlay with an aftermarket product, expect to pay something like £300 upwards for a system that also supports the technology. And since BMW has also brought in annual subs fees, be sure to ask whether your car brand will charge a fee for ongoing usage.

By Curtis Moldrich

CAR's online editor and racing-sim enthusiast