First look at Apple CarPlay: Simple but effective

Here come the 2016 model year cars along with Apple's CarPlay integration. The overall experience is much nicer for iPhone owners than any car-maker's system.

Is it really time for the new model year vehicles to go on sale? It is and I actually took ownership of a 2016 car before the manufacturer was even advertising it.

I bought a Volkswagen -- a hard-to-find 2016 VW Golf R -- and something else the company isn't advertising is Apple's CarPlay.

I didn't even know the Golf had CarPlay support until I plugged in my iPhone the day after I got the vehicle home. It also supports Android Auto but nobody told me about that either. I'll be taking a closer look at Android Auto in the near future; for now let's look at CarPlay,

Simply put, CarPlay doesn't do all that much just yet. It does enough, however, to make me happy and it does it well.

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Obviously, Apple Music is the star here and the interface is actually easier to use in the car than it is in the app on my iPhone. It's simple to choose an artist, track, album or station; either by pressing the car's touchscreen or by asking Siri for some help.

Siri is always available through an on-screen Home button. I tend not to use it though. Instead, a long press of the VW voice command button on my steering wheel does the same. A short tap of that button activates VW's system.

Phone calls and messages are also handled well through Siri. The experience is little different from using an iPhone. You can navigate through your contacts visually or ask Siri to call someone. Even better, incoming Messages can be read aloud so there's no need to take your eyes off the road.

While I personally prefer Google Maps to Apple Maps, only the latter is supported. However, the Apple Maps experience is better than I remember when last using it. Turn-by-turn voice prompts worked well as did destination searches over the past week.

I don't have any audiobooks to listen to while driving so I didn't test that app. The Podcasts app works well, playing any episodes you've downloaded to your iPhone.

There aren't too many other apps yet available for CarPlay and most of them are media-focused as you'd expect: Rdio, iHeart Radio, Spotify, Stitcher, MLB At Bat, for example. That's OK though. I certainly don't want Angry Birds or YouTube playing in the middle of my dashboard while I'm driving. Like the Apple Watch, if you install an iPhone app that has a companion CarPlay app, it just shows up in the car.

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Overall, I'm finding that Apple CarPlay is a nice bonus surprise in my Golf. I still listen to local radio but more and more I tend to gravitate towards using Apple Music and the hands-free experience of calls and messaging.