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What is Apple CarPlay and Why Should You Have It in Your BMW?

Paul Smith

Oct 21, 2020

What is Apple CarPlay and Why Should You Have It in Your BMW?

For many people shopping for a new car, the quality of the infotainment system is an important consideration. It's something the automakers have taken on board, each scrambling to design an in-car system that will be enough to woo prospective buyers. Many, though, still struggle to produce anything that's more than merely functional. And with fragmentation between brands, these systems generally only offer a small handful of third-party integrations, falling back on native solutions for most core features, like navigation, music and messaging.

What is Apple CarPlay and Why Should You Have It in Your BMW?

Fortunately, Apple is able to offer iPhone users a compelling alternative in the form of iPhone CarPlay, an in-car multimedia hub that lets you use many of your favorite iOS apps safely behind the wheel.

After adding BMW Apple CarPlay, you will be able to:

  • Choose from a range of navigation apps, including Apple Maps, Google Maps and Waze, instead of relying on your car's native navigation system.
  • Enjoy music, radio, podcasts and audiobooks from services like Spotify, Stitcher, Tidal, Pandora and Audible.
  • Send text messages using apps like WhatsApp.
  • Use Siri voice control to send messages, find directions and more, without taking your eyes off the road.
  • Conveniently access all your content using your vehicle's native iDrive controls, whichever app you're using.

For anybody with a BMW, Apple CarPlay could be particularly interesting, thanks to BMW's long-standing commitment to making things easier for iPhone users.

What is Apple CarPlay?

CarPlay was launched in 2014, but was based on the pre-existing "iPod Out" functionality, co-developed by Apple and BMW several years earlier. In a BMW, iPod Out made it possible to plug an iPod into your iDrive system and listen to your music collection through your vehicle's stereo system. At the same time, the current track or playlist could be shown on the iDrive screen, and controlling your iPod — skipping tracks, for example — could be done with your vehicle's native multimedia controls.

As iPods gave way to far more capable iPhones, Apple was able to revisit its iPod Out technology, and rebuild it with considerably more features. Rather than simply controlling music playback, the new system, dubbed CarPlay, would be able to leverage the full power of an iPhone to run a wide range of apps, including music, messaging and navigation. By creating an interface between your smartphone and your BMW's iDrive system, CarPlay lets you enjoy the best of both worlds: the versatility of an iPhone and its broad app ecosystem, combined with the convenience of the dashboard display and in-vehicle controls.

Though CarPlay lets you run many of the same familiar apps you might already be using on your iPhone, the system is optimized for in-car use. That means a new menu design that's better suited to using behind the wheel. CarPlay does support touchscreens in compatible vehicles, but the system works equally well with the buttons and knobs found on most cars' dashboards.

What is wireless CarPlay?

Unlike many other manufacturers, BMW also chose to implement wireless CarPlay, letting you connect your iPhone to your car without any cables. The result is a neater, clutter-free look that many BMW owners are sure to appreciate.

Does BMW support CarPlay?

As BMW played a key role in developing CarPlay's predecessor, iPod Out, it shouldn't come as much surprise that BMW has also added Apple's latest offering to many of its cars. Since 2017, Apple CarPlay has been available in BMWs with the latest navigation systems, adding an extra layer of utility on top of its existing iDrive infotainment platform.

CarPlay update in iOS 14 - What's new? 

Apple’s updates of iOS software brought new goodies to CarPlay — both to its interface and the system capabilities. iOS 14 makes it possible for users to change the CarPlay wallpaper for a one with more vibrant or toned colours, auto play tracks in Apple Music and get access to an EV routes planner in Apple Maps. The biggest update, though, was to Siri. The voice assistant not only got a completely new speaker interface, but also gained the capability of sending voice messages over messaging apps and sharing an ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) to contact lists. 

CarPlay update in iOS 14

CarPlay in iOS 14 - How to update?

Whether you have an original Apple CarPlay or CarPlay MMI PRO you can still have your software updated. It only takes a quick iOS 14 update on your iPhone and a change of Wi-Fi settings if necessary, and you’re good to go with CarPlay’s newest features. 

Get to know more features coming with Apple’s iOS 14 update.

How to upgrade to Apple CarPlay and what is required

CarPlay is available as a factory option in most new BMW's. If your vehicle doesn't have CarPlay but you'd like to add it, you have a few retrofit options.

CarPlay software activation

Even if your BMW doesn't have Apple CarPlay, it's possible that your vehicle is already fitted with all the necessary hardware. Any vehicles with the CarPlay Preparation option (S6CPA) are capable of running the native Apple CarPlay interface, after having it activated by a BMW dealership or third party using special coding software for BMWs. If you aren't sure whether your vehicle has the S6CPA option, try entering your VIN at a free online BMW VIN decoder to find out. Vehicles with an NBT Evo ID5/6 head unit with up-to-date iDrive software can even have CarPlay activated without needing the CarPlay Preparation option.

Original BMW CarPlay upgrade is available for most recent BMW models, including:

  • 2017–2019 BMW 2 Series
  • 2017–2020 BMW 3 Series
  • 2017–2019 BMW 4 Series
  • 2017–2019 BMW 5 Series
  • 2017–2019 BMW 6 Series
  • 2017–2019 BMW 7 Series
  • 2018–2019 BMW X1
  • 2018–2019 BMW X2
  • 2017–2019 BMW X3
  • 2017–2019 BMW X4
  • 2017–2019 BMW X5
  • 2017–2019 BMW X6
  • 2018–2019 BMW i3
  • 2019 BMW i8
  • 2019 BMW Z4

Apple CarPlay availability can be also limited by your location IF you opt for a straight from the factory activation. According to Apple, BMW CarPlay 2020 is available in more than 35 countries. But if you're not on that list, BMW can't offer you this feature. BimmerTech, on the other hand, can perform the BMW CarPlay setup in any country if you have the necessary hardware preparation.

Adding a WiFi antenna for CarPlay

As BMW's implementation of CarPlay is wireless, it is also required that your car have a WiFi antenna to allow connection between your iPhone and BMW. This is included with the CarPlay Preparation option, but can also be found in packages such as Wireless Charging (S6NVA or S6NWA) or Comfort Telephony (S6NSA or S6NPA). If your car isn't already fitted with a WiFi antenna, for the BMW CarPlay over WiFi system to work, you'll need to add one before activating this feature.

The WiFi antenna installation process is very easy. You can check it out in our video tutorial below:

Adding a WiFi antenna and a head unit for CarPlay

For some iDrive systems though, like EntrynavEvo, adding a WiFi antenna may not be enough, since the original head unit doesn’t always come with WiFi compatibility.

In this case scenario, to have the OEM Apple CarPlay activated you first have to install a WiFi compatible head unit and a Wi-Fi antenna, which unfortunately comes at a higher cost and install effort. If you’re not willing to spare the money and time to get Apple CarPlay activation, we’d suggest going with the last CarPlay & Android Auto retrofit option.

Retrofitting a BMW CarPlay module

For older vehicles that aren't officially supported, it's possible to add BMW CarPlay (aftermarket unit required). BimmerTech’s CarPlay MMI PRO is one of your options. Take a look at the installation process of CarPlay for NBT-type iDrives.

NOTE: The installation process may vary depending on your head unit.

Although the above installation process of CarPlay for NBT-type head units is manageable even for inexperienced DIY’ers,  the process of mounting the CarPlay MMI PRO in cars with CIC is a bit more tedious. Therefore, if you’d need a helping hand, here’s a list of our installers who will manage this process for you. 

Find out whether a third-party or BMW CarPlay activation is right for you.

Whether a third-party CarPlay module will work in your BMW, and what features will be available to you, depends on the exact product. BimmerTech's CarPlay MMI PRO retrofit does not require any specific package, making it a great choice for a wide variety of vehicles. Unlike many other units available, BimmerTech's is designed to integrate perfectly with your BMW, letting you use the factory iDrive screen, buttons and controllers when using CarPlay. Just like the OEM solution, it also supports a wireless connection. For greater versatility, it even includes Android Auto alongside CarPlay, something BMW is yet to offer even in its latest cars. Android Auto will be coming to BMWs in July 2020, though, so it's worth getting to know Android Auto, too.

For more information, find out how to retrofit CarPlay in a 2016 or older BMW.


How to pair wireless CarPlay with your phone?

Though CarPlay apps are shown on your car's built-in display, the apps themselves are still being run on your iPhone. That means CarPlay isn't a standalone system; it requires an iOS device to be connected to your car at all times.

On many systems, this calls for a wired connection, with the iPhone being plugged into one of the vehicle's USB ports throughout use. However, CarPlay does support wireless connections, which some manufacturers — BMW among them — have taken advantage of. In a BMW with CarPlay from the factory, it's enough to activate Bluetooth on your iPhone, and navigate to Settings > General > CarPlay on your iPhone to pair the two.

How do I use CarPlay in my BMW?

With your BMW and iPhone paired, the native BMW iDrive menu will be replaced with CarPlay's alternative, showing all your available apps as iOS-like icons spread across the screen. Navigating the menu is no different from using BMW's own system, meaning you can use the iDrive controller to switch between options — or, in vehicles fitted with a touchscreen, just tap the app you want to use. What's more, the voice-control button on the steering wheel can be used to summon Siri, letting you ask for directions, dictate messages or ask for music, just as you would on an iPhone.

Which apps can I use on Apple Carplay in 2020?

To use an app through CarPlay, it first has to be installed on your iPhone, but that doesn't mean every app on your phone is going to be available on CarPlay. First up, CarPlay only supports apps you're likely to use when driving: navigation, messaging and audio, including music, radio and podcasts. That covers popular preinstalled apps like Apple Maps, iMessage and Apple Music, as well as third-party offerings, like Google Maps, Audible and Overcast. Outside of those three categories, Apple has also allowed manufacturers to include their own, vehicle-specific app.

The app developer also has to enable their app for CarPlay, in part by providing an alternative interface that's better suited to use in a car. Major apps like Waze, Spotify and WhatsApp have done that, but if you use something a little more niche, you might not be able to access it through CarPlay. And even if it's available, the functionality might be limited; Facebook Messenger launched with support for receiving voice calls through CarPlay, but doesn't allow making calls or messaging. If you aren't sure whether your favorite app is supported, it's a good idea to contact the developer for clarification.

As of January 2020,  BMW CarPlay apps  include:

  • Apple Maps
  • Google Maps
  • Waze
  • Apple Podcasts
  • Apple Audiobooks
  • WhatsApp
  • Spotify
  • Amazon Prime Music
  • Google Play Music
  • SiriusXM Satellite Radio
  • Audible
  • MLB At Bat
  • Pandora
  • Tidal
  • iHeartRadio
  • Stitcher
  • Radio Disney
  • CBS Radio
  • Overcast
  • NAVER Map
  • Slacker Radio
  • VOX
  • NPR One
  • KakaoMap
  • Clammr
  • Downcast
  • SygicA list of apps available for Apple CarPlay in 2019

Apple is adding new apps app the time, so to check the latest app lineup, please check the official CarPlay website.

My favorite app is missing. What can I do?

CarPlay is only designed to work with navigation, audio and messaging apps. At present, there are no known plans to add other app categories to CarPlay. That means that if you want to use other kinds of apps in your BMW—letting your passengers watch videos, for example—CarPlay might not be the right choice for you.

However, BimmerTech offers a number of innovative solutions designed to get more of your favorite apps into your car. Our CarPlay MMI PRO, apart from standard CarPlay functionality, also includes a screen mirroring feature (iOS AirPlay in the main menu). You can cast your smartphone’s display, making it possible to use non-CarPlay apps on the iDrive screen!

Can Apple CarPlay play Netflix?

Unfortunately, it can’t because CarPlay doesn’t support any VOD apps. The DRM technology in most video streaming apps also blocks use with screen mirroring. You can cast the YouTube app from your iPhone though, using the iOS AirPlay connection to our CarPlay MMI PRO. 

If you really want to get one of the streaming apps onto your iDrive screen, check out our Apple TV-based SmartView HD system. It lets you access all Apple TV apps on the iDrive screen, including video apps like Netflix, HBO and Hulu, and is perfectly suited for iPhone users. See what Apple TV 4 can do for your BMW.

Reorganizing the CarPlay home screen

Like an iPhone, CarPlay also gives you the option to reorder the apps on the home screen, move the icons between pages or delete them entirely. That way you can always make sure you have easy access to the apps you regularly use in your car, and don't have your screen cluttered up with extra apps you don't need.

Instead of configuring CarPlay in your car, everything is done on your iPhone, in Settings > General > CarPlay. There you have the option of drag-and-dropping icons across screens to define the arrangement you'll have next time you use CarPlay in your vehicle. Tapping the minus icon on each app will remove it from CarPlay entirely. On the same screen, you're also able to decide whether or not it will be possible to use CarPlay when your iPhone is locked.

As your CarPlay preferences are stored on your iPhone, not your BMW, each person who drives your car can even set everything up totally differently, and access their unique configuration by connecting their phone. If you're already using custom driver profiles for each BMW key fob, CarPlay is going to fit right in.

Depending on your CarPlay system and the size of your vehicle's screen, CarPlay will be able to display eight or ten icons per screen. Due to this variation, anybody who drives several vehicles will have to configure CarPlay individually for each of them. The CarPlay settings page on your iPhone will show all the cars you've connected your iPhone to, and let you set up a unique menu arrangement for each. This could come in handy for anybody with a personal and company car, or a family car for the week and something sporty for the weekend. CarPlay lets you adjust the default menu on a car-by-car basis to prioritize the apps you're most likely to use at different moments in your life: messaging apps in your company car and entertainment for family outings.

Full-screen vs split-screen Apple CarPlay

By default, BMW's native CarPlay system comes with a split-screen interface, fitting a total of eight apps per screen. For an improved CarPlay experience, owners of vehicles with the latest NBT Evo ID5/6 head units can activate full-screen mode in their BMW, letting you use as many as 10 apps per page.

BimmerTech can activate this and other features with our quick and easy remote iDrive coding.

Using CarPlay full-screen also gives your navigation map and other apps more room to shine, making it easier to get the information you're looking for at a glance. Due to the advantages full-screen CarPlay offers over the split-screen alternative, third-party CarPlay retrofits like BimmerTech's CarPlay MMI PRO unit tend to use a full-screen interface as standard.

How much does Apple CarPlay cost?

When buying a new BMW, all the optional extras are going to cost you, and CarPlay is no different. At launch in 2017, CarPlay ran to $300 in the US, roughly in line with other infotainment options.

Is Apple CarPlay subscription based?

It was, but since release, BMW has taken another look at the way it offers CarPlay. In an industry first, BMW initially decided to make CarPlay available as a subscription service, including it free for a year in new cars and charging $80/year after that. BMW's argument was that Apple CarPlay subscription could turn out better for the consumer, particularly anybody who leases; it would have been five years before the total cost of the subscription had passed the old $300 upfront cost, so over the course of a typical three-year lease, you were going to be $140 up.

Buyers in the new and used markets weren’t quite so lucky. The longer they planned to hold on to the car, the greater the premium they were going to end up paying for BMW CarPlay subscription, and without the first year coming free, the cost would creep up that little bit quicker. It's clear why BMW's decision to shift to a subscription model came with its share of detractors, and why the manufacturer introduced more changes into Apple CarPlay subscription price

When will subscription end and for whom?

In December 2019, the German automaker announced that it had decided to ditch its Apple CarPlay subscription model. 2019/2020 BMW vehicles with the latest infotainment system (iDrive 7.0) won’t be charged for CarPlay, meaning that those still in their free first year will have the software subscription automatically renewed. Eligible BMW owners who had BMW Apple CarPlay subscription but cancelled it will also have the opportunity to renew it for free. As for cars with Apple CarPlay that has already been paid for, it’s not known whether there will be any reimbursement or not. 

This CarPlay model will be introduced first in the UK, USA and Australia, and after successful implementation, in other regions.

So, is Apple CarPlay free in BMW?

Yes, and no. Owners of BMW vehicles with iDrive 6.0 and lower infotainment systems will still be charged a one-time fee of $300. In addition, the roll out of the new CarPlay payment model might take a while before it reaches all countries, so the BMW Apple CarPlay subscription fee might stay for a bit longer.

If you prefer paying a set fee up-front right now instead of still being saddled with an annual charge, a third-party BMW CarPlay retrofit, such as BimmerTech's, can activate CarPlay in your car without the subscription cost.

How do I install CarPlay in my BMW?

How you choose to activate Apple CarPlay in your BMW will depend on your vehicle, but BimmerTech offers solutions for a wide range of situations.

If your vehicle already has the appropriate hardware — either the CarPlay Preparation (S6CPA) option or an up-to-date NBT Evo ID5/6 head unit — we can activate BMW original CarPlay in less than an hour. Depending on your BMW Apple CarPlay compatibility, our technician will perform the activation remotely, or you'll be sent a USB stick that will automatically unlock CarPlay when plugged into your car.

Owners of older vehicles can instead opt for our CarPlay MMI PRO retrofit, a custom module offering a fully integrated CarPlay experience.

For help finding which option is available for your vehicle, enter your VIN at the top of the page or contact us.

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