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Monday, April 27, 2015

[UPDATE] Apple Watch & CarPlay - Can They Work Simultaneously With An iPhone?


UPDATE: It turns out that CarPlay works without a Bluetooth connection at the moment. With Bluetooth turned off on the iPhone, I connected it to my AppRadio 4 and CarPlay launched without an alert. I was even able to make a phone call without Bluetooth, which begs the question: Does CarPlay require Bluetooth at all? This may change when CarPlay goes wireless though. I have updated this post to reflect this new finding.

The first wave of preorders for the Apple Watch reached customers yesterday. What I've been curious to know is whether you can use your Apple Watch to control CarPlay in any way.

In a post a few weeks back, I threw some speculations around on this topic and what the possibilities would be for an Apple Watch to play nice with CarPlay. These are the few thoughts I had...
Apple Watch communicates with your iPhone over Bluetooth. The Bluetooth protocol has advanced markedly over the years allowing multiple connections simultaneously. Which means you could technically control CarPlay from your Apple Watch via your iPhone. 
Things like changing tracks, reading messages, replying to phone calls etc. should be possible from the Watch. But will Apple allow you to do that or block Apple Watch usage completely while driving? Isn't the Watch a potential distraction while driving? And what happens when you trigger Siri from your Watch while in the car? Does CarPlay get interrupted? 
First of all, can the iPhone connect to both, your CarPlay compatible car (or head unit), and Apple Watch over Bluetooth at the same time. With the latest version of Bluetooth in today's iPhones, that should be possible. I tried connecting my iPhone 6 to two Bluetooth speakers simultaneously (although, only one outputs audio at a time) and it worked...

In CarPlay, the Bluetooth connection is used to make calls only. Everything else works over the lightning cable connection. When you connect your iPhone to a CarPlay compatible head unit, it prompts you to turn on Bluetooth for CarPlay to work. And with Apple Watch, you need an active Bluetooth connection for the device to work with your iPhone.

Extremely early reports from various customer feedback suggests you can use an Apple Watch to control CarPlay in your car. I have not been able to confirm this yet though.

Let's talk technically for a moment. Take the latest CarPlay compatible app, TuneIn Radio, for example. Since the latest version of TuneIn has already added Apple Watch integration, you could use the Apple Watch to change stations, jump to recent or related stations or even follow stations or shows. And this should reflect on CarPlay; In other words, you are now controlling CarPlay with your Apple Watch.

In the same way, the Apple Watch can be used to control the Music app too. Changing tracks, pausing, skipping forward or back etc. could all be possible from the Watch.

The Podcasts app doesn't have a native Watch version/integration yet. Here are the other CarPlay compatible apps and where they stand currently on Apple Watch compatibility/integration.

Podcasts - No Apple Watch integration
Beats Music - No Apple Watch integration (not CarPlay compatible either)
iHeartRadio - Apple Watch integration added in version 5.7.0
MLB At Bat - Apple Watch integration added in version 8.1.3 (not yet CarPlay compatible)
Spotify - No Apple Watch integration
Stitcher - No Apple Watch integration
CBS Radio News - No Apple Watch integration
Rdio - No Apple Watch integration
Overcast - Apple Watch integration added in version 1.2.1
Umano - No Apple Watch integration
Audiobooks - No Apple Watch integration
TuneIn Radio - Apple Watch integration added in version 7.3
TuneIn Radio Pro - Apple Watch integration added in version 7.3

The apps that have already added Apple Watch integration should be able to control CarPlay. I'm guessing the other CarPlay compatible apps will receive similar controls when Apple Watch integration is added. Apple Watch controls/displays content from your iPhone (it can't do much without an iPhone), and the content on your iPhone is displayed in your car's dashboard via CarPlay. So the chain of control is Apple Watch ---> iPhone ---> CarPlay.

Note that when you input a command on CarPlay (for example, changing a track in the Music app), it should also reflect the change on the Apple Watch. In other words, the chain of control works both ways with the iPhone in the center of it all. I cannot confirm this at the moment though.

Unfortunately, I am not planning on buying an Apple Watch anytime soon so won't be able to test this out. But if any of you CarPlay users out there own an Apple Watch, let us know how and if the two work together. Leave a comment below.

Top image source: Apple

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