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What's up with wireless Apple CarPlay?

Drivers look forward to not touching their iPhones

Apple Carplay goes wireless

Update: Wireless CarPlay is finally here

After several months of speculation, there is finally an officially announced wireless CarPlay receiver that's ready to purchase now. Check out the Alpine iLX-107 digital media receiver, which should ship in late July of 2017. It doesn't have a CD player but it does boast a built-in Wi-Fi network, which it uses in combination with Bluetooth to communicate with your iPhone. After the initial setup and pairing with your phone, you'll be able to launch CarPlay on the stereo without touching your phone as soon as you get into your vehicle.

Ever since it debuted in early 2014, Apple CarPlay™ has been a pretty big deal for car audio-loving iPhone enthusiasts across America. At first, CarPlay compatibility was only available in select Ferrari models, but over time it popped up in other factory stereos. When Pioneer became the first company to introduce CarPlay in their aftermarket stereos, we got really excited.

It’s been several years since CarPlay entered the aftermarket realm. It’s been a boon for many drivers who love its ability to let them use the main functions and apps on their iPhones in a road-friendly manner. Yet, some people have been wondering when a wireless version will be available.

Currently, CarPlay requires a USB-to-Lightning cable connection between the iPhone and the receiver. No Bluetooth® connection or other wireless method of data transfer is involved. When Alpine rolled out their first digital media receiver built specifically for use with CarPlay, the lack of Bluetooth was one of the qualms that people had with it.

Rumors have been circulating about wireless CarPlay since the software was included in the initial iteration of iOS 9. So far, there has not been any official hardware (i.e., car stereos) which will work with wireless CarPlay. Everything at this point is still speculative. But we thought it would be fun to imagine what wireless CarPlay might be like.

How would it work?

Without a wired connection, the data transfer between the iPhone and receiver would have to happen via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi®, some combination of the two, or another wireless technology altogether. It seems Bluetooth alone would not be robust enough to transmit large amounts of data between the two devices. This is important so that the stereo can display maps in a timely fashion. That's one of the key benefits of using CarPlay. Bluetooth should work for displaying album artwork, incoming messages, playlists, and songs from an iPhone, but maps will likely require something a little stronger, like Wi-Fi.

If Wi-Fi is involved, then it would have to be built into the receiver. There are only a handful of receivers on the market with Wi-Fi capability right now, and they’re not exactly a bargain. It would be interesting to see what stereo manufacturers think consumers are willing to pay for that just to avoid plugging in their iPhones. On the plus side, Wi-Fi can be really fast if done correctly, which could be great news for audiophiles.

Could it sound great?

If this hypothetical wireless CarPlay receiver depends on Bluetooth for transmitting music between the iPhone and the stereo, then sound quality probably won’t be as good as the present iteration of wired CarPlay. While Bluetooth technology has evolved over the years, it still depends on compression to get data from one device to another. That compression ultimately causes most musical information to suffer in some noticeable way.

However, if Wi-Fi is involved, then there might not be a noticeable loss in sound quality. Wi-Fi can move a lot of data quickly, and one can expect MP3s and AAC (iTunes standard) files to sound about the same as they do through a wired connection. High-resolution lossless music files — such as Apple Lossless (ALAC) — could possibly stream from the phone to the receiver without any loss in quality, depending on a number of factors. This would certainly make wireless CarPlay worth considering for critical listeners.

Would wireless CarPlay really be that much more convenient?

A lot of people don’t think that taking a couple of seconds to connect an iPhone to a stereo with a Lightning cable is a big deal. However, for commuters who have to make multiple stops on short- to medium-length trips, wireless CarPlay could make a world of difference.

Wireless CarPlay with automated pairing would mean that you could leave your phone in your pocket the entire trip, and still access your maps, messages, songs, and podcasts through your stereo. It might not mean much to everyone, but there are certainly a lot of people for whom it would be worth the investment.

So where is wireless CarPlay?

Like we said, people have been asking about wireless CarPlay since its wired debut. We’ve heard the rumors about wireless receivers popping up at various trade shows, but don’t have any official word at this time. Apple’s been busy with the iPhone 7 for the past few months, but now that that’s out, maybe we’ll see some substantial news in the near future. After all, they decided to go wireless with their headphones, so maybe CarPlay is the next logical step. Watch this space for any further developments.

  • James from Washington D.C.

    Posted on 4/24/2017

    Bluetooth 5.0 which is on the Samsung Galaxy S8 will hopefully make it to the iPhone 8 by the end of 2017 and then maybe manufactures will start building units with Bluetooth 5.0 for the connection. It certainly will have the bandwidth for it.

  • Lowell from Chandler

    Posted on 4/28/2017

    BMW has offered Bluetooth connected Apple CarPlay in the 5 Series. Any news on after factory radios offering this?

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 4/28/2017

    Lowell, there will be wireless Apple CarPlay available in aftermarket head units like this one from Alpine. However, they are not in stock yet and here's what we know: There have been delays getting the necessary certification from Apple for the CarPlay feature. As soon as we have firm shipping information, we will post an official Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) for this radio.

  • qb from Durham, NC

    Posted on 6/30/2017

    I don't own any kind of smartphone and don't want one. I use an iPad Mini with cell service in my car for music and when I need email or maps. I've long wished CarPlay would work with iPads. With the Alpine having "wireless" connectivity I would like to know if it would allow me to use CarPlay with the iPad Mini via Bluetooth (or whatever wireless tech this uses). Can anyone provide a answer once they have a unit in hand? Thanks!

  • Dominic DeVito from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/3/2017

    Great question, qb. Unfortunately, Apple CarPlay only works with iPhones. And that's too bad because an iPad Mini helping out with navigation and music sounds nifty, as long as it's not distracting. Perhaps in the future Apple will incorporate CarPlay technology into the iPad (especially if demand is there) but for now that's not feasible.

  • Jenalee Berger from Layton

    Posted on 9/18/2017

    I have apple CarPlay in my new minivan. It is a wired connection. Im wondering if it will work with a new iPhone 8 or iPhone x. I heard that the new phones don't have a to plug in a charging cable.

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/18/2017

    Jenalee, the upcoming iPhones should work with Apple CarPlay. However, upgrading to wireless Apple CarPlay is not a firmware update. If you want wireless Apple CarPlay, you would need to install a new stereo in your vehicle. Currently, that feature is only available in one Alpine stereo.

  • Dominic DeVito from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/20/2017

    Jenalee: to follow up on what Lex said, the new iPhones have the capability to do wireless charging on mats, but they still have a Lightning connection at the base and will come with a Lightning cable in the box. The iPhone 8 models and iPhone X should work just fine with Apple CarPlay so long as you have a Lightning cable in your minivan.

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