Swapping out your car’s given infotainment head unit for one with Apple CarPlay will bring your old ride into the 5G-powered internet age. Apple licenses its technology to major audio manufacturers. Consequently, most aftermarket Apple head units are from big brands like Alpine, Blaupunkt, Clarion, Dual, JVC, Jensen, Kenwood, Pioneer, and Sony.
Why should you care about 5G in your car? Because with 5G, your media will download quickly from the cloud. That means streaming rich content right to your car rather than storing files on your phone or relying on clunky tethered solutions. It’s more like WiFi on the run (with built-in apps).
Prices start at about $300, which gets you in the game. Spend hundreds or thousands more to increase the screen size and quality—and improve audio fidelity.
Budget-minded buyers can save money by using a third-party wireless CarPlay dongle—thereby ditching the USB cable. But an Apple CarPlay head unit with wireless capability is the more elegant solution.
Double-DIN Apple CarPlay Head Units
Today’s factory car stereos come in a variety of shapes and configurations. For most older cars, the head unit is set to a global standard known as DIN. Most of these units are either a single-DIN size (180mm by 50 mm) or a double-DIN size (180mm long by 100mm high).
Double-DINs run from affordable entry-level units to specialized models costing thousands of dollars.
Alpine aftermarket Apple head units start at $299 for the 7-inch, 16-watt shallow-chassis ILX-W650. That unit offers the option of adding a PowerStack amplifier that tucks behind Alpine’s slim head units. It boosts output to 400 watts while adding peak power during “dynamic musical passages.” This is a neat and tidy solution that delivers crisp sound without the need to mount a conventional amplifier in the trunk or other location.
On the other (higher) end, the Alpine X409-WRA-JL is a weather-resistant unit with navigation. It’s specifically designed for the 2018 and newer Jeep Wranglers and Gladiators. The nine-inch 50-watt X409-WRA-JL includes a Datalink Maestro for full vehicle integration and can integrate with winches and light bars via an external accessory controller. It lists for about $3,000.
Less expensive units have lower-quality touchscreens, fewer features, and lower audio quality. Spend more to get more.
Single-DIN Apple CarPlay Head Units
Although single-DINs are more expensive than double-DIN cousins, they allow for larger, floating touchscreens.
In other words, double-DIN screens are integrated flush with the unit. But larger touchscreens offered with single-DINs protrude an inch or so away from the dash. It’s a slick solution, although avoiding AC vents and buttons can be tricky.
Alpine’s Halo9 and Halo11 offer 9-inch and 11-inch screens, respectively. Meanwhile, Stinger’s HEIGH10 and ELEV8 head units fit both single- and double-DIN dashboard spaces, with a modular design that uses a separate receiver and display.
The nine-inch Alpine Halo9 iLX-F409 has a list price of $699, while the 11-inch Alpine Halo11 iLX-F411 lists for $999. Both units have a 16-watt rating.
Need advice about installation? Start on with this article about wiring for a new vehicle head unit and related topics.
Apple CarPlay Supported Apps
Here is a partial list of apps approved and supported by Apple:
- Amazon Music
- At Bat 3
- CBS Radio
- Google Play Music
- Radio Disney
- SiriusXM Radio
There are also several compelling Apple CarPlay navigation options, including Apple Maps, 2GIS, Google Maps, TomTom, and Waze.
Apple CarPlay lacks support for automotive-specific apps like DashCommand and Torque. So gearheads will want to consider integrating a tablet on your dashboard.
If you want to display gauges with CarPlay, you’ll need to choose a receiver that’s compatible with the Datalink Maestro.
Compatibility with Apple CarPlay Head Units
A head unit with Apple CarPlay supports Android Auto as well. That’s not always true the other way around. Many Android head units lack support of CarPlay.
Apple CarPlay is compatible back to the iPhone 5. So there’s no need to upgrade your iPhone immediately to enjoy in-car connectivity.