A Complete Guide to Customizing Apple CarPlay

CarPlay is supported on many modern cars. Credit: Apple


If you’ve got an iPhone and a car dashboard that supports the tech, you should be making use of Apple CarPlay on the road. It extends a lot of your iPhone apps to the bigger screen in your vehicle—most importantly Apple Maps, Google Maps, and the apps you use for playing your music and podcasts.

While CarPlay works just fine in its default configuration, you can customize it in a variety of ways, which I’ll explain here. If you’re spending a lot of time on the move, it makes sense to get the interface set up in the way that works best for you. Assuming you’ve gone through the initial connection process, here’s what you can change to meet your needs.

How to customize Apple CarPlay in the car

Down in the lower corner of the CarPlay interface is an icon that changes shape depending on the screen you’re on, but which always looks like some combination of black squares and rectangles. Tap on this to switch between the app drawer and the main CarPlay screen with widgets (typically a mapping app and a media app). In the U.S. this icon is on the left, but if you’re in a right-hand drive car, as in my screenshots, it’s on the right.

To get a particular app up in full screen mode, select it from the left-hand sidebar or from the app drawer: This gives you more options (such as the ability to zoom in and out of the map on screen). You can also tap on an app in the widget view to get it to go full screen—use the icon in the lower left corner again to return to the widgets.

Apple CarPlay

The main widget interface for CarPlay. Credit: Lifehacker

Tap on the Settings app in the app drawer or sidebar (the one that looks like several gears), and you’re able to change a few aspects of the way CarPlay looks and works. First up is Driving Focus, which functions like a special “do not disturb” mode for when you’re in the car. If you want, you can automatically enable Driving Focus when CarPlay is connected (and configure those settings via your iPhone).

Tap Announce Messages to control whether or not Siri reads out messages as they come into your phone—which you may find useful or an unnecessary distraction. More Siri options can be found under Siri and Suggestions from the main Settings menu. For example, you can have Siri send messages you dictate with or without confirmation.

Apple CarPlay

The Settings screen in CarPlay. Credit: Apple

Under Appearance and Wallpaper you can change the way CarPlay looks on your dashboard screen. It’s possible to have dark mode always enabled, for example, and there are 11 different wallpaper options to choose from—none of them particularly detailed, but you’re not going to be spending a lot of time looking at them anyway.

The last option in Settings is Show Album Art, which is a simple toggle switch for the Now Playing screen (which you’ll find in the app drawer). This Now Playing screen takes over when you’re playing any kind of media in any app, giving a uniform look to the playback interface and controls.

How to customize CarPlay on your iPhone

Pull out your iPhone (as long as you’re not driving) to customize CarPlay further. For example, tap Focus and Driving from the iOS Settings screen to change the setup of this mode, which can be enabled automatically when you start driving. You can control how notifications appear when you’re on the road, and set up an auto reply text message if you need to.

Pick General and CarPlay from Settings in iOS, and then select your vehicle, and you’re able to choose whether or not CarPlay connects automatically when your iPhone is present and that particular car starts up. You might prefer starting CarPlay manually from your car dashboard if you don’t want it active on every trip.

CarPlay options

Configure driving mode and apps from your iPhone. Credit: Lifehacker

Choose Customize and you’re able to choose which apps show up on the CarPlay dashboard and in what order. This isn’t a list of all the apps on your iPhone, it’s just the ones that work with CarPlay. You can use the handles on the right to rearrange them, and the buttons on the left to add or remove them.

You don’t necessarily want every CarPlay-compatible app on your iPhone to actually show up in your vehicle. If there are certain ones you’re never going to use, then they’re just adding clutter (which you don’t want on an in-car interface). But some of these apps, including Apple Maps and Messages, can’t be removed.

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