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Best third-party CarPlay apps

CarPlay
CarPlay (Image credit: iMore)

CarPlay is a great way to interact with your apps while you're on the road. While Apple has brought a number of core apps over to the infotainment system, a select few third-party developers have been able to add support as well.

Because using apps in the car is a completely different ballgame compared to using them elsewhere, CarPlay apps are judged a bit differently from standard apps. The mark of a solid CarPlay experience is how little time you spend actually interacting with it. You don't want to be distracted while driving, so these apps need to get you in and listening to your desired content in the shortest amount of time possible.

With that in mind, here are the top third-party CarPlay apps.

Audible

Whether you're stuck in traffic or heading out on a road trip, an audiobook can be a great way to pass the time, and Audible is one of the top destinations for audiobooks. Quickly access your audiobook library and start listening in just a couple of taps. Note that you'll want to have anything you plan to listen to already downloaded to your iPhone before you head out.

Free - Download Now (opens in new tab)

Audiobooks.com

Like Audible, the Audiobooks.com app lets you listen to audiobooks purchased through the service with a couple of taps. Unlike Audible, however, this app gives you a few more options when it comes to listening. In addition to My Library, the Audiobooks.com app has other sections available, including one for downloaded audiobooks, a selection of free books to listen to, and the Featured Samples section.

Free - Download Now (opens in new tab)

Overcast

Like audiobooks, podcasts are a great way to pass the time on long drives, with shows out there on every topic under the sun. In the car, Overcast offers you access to all of your shows, both those downloaded to your device, as well as episodes still waiting in the cloud. Two tabs at the top of the screen let you move between your playlist or a list of the shows that you have episodes for, and after that, you can easily check out your library of waiting episodes.

Free - Download Now (opens in new tab)

Castro

Castro

Like I've said before, the mark of a good CarPlay app is that it gets you in and out quickly, and Castro is great for that. Like Overcast, Castro has two tabs: Queue and Inbox. If you're unfamiliar with Castro, the Inbox is where new episodes of your shows sit until you start listening to them. After that, they head over to the Queue until they're done. Your Queue, meanwhile, is a list of podcast episodes in the order that you want to play them, much like Apple Music's Up Next feature. While playing a podcast will automatically add it to the queue, you can also manually add episodes from Castro on the iPhone.

Free - Download Now (opens in new tab)

NPR One

NPR One offers on-demand NPR content whenever you want to listen. Get the latest news, tune into your favorite NPR shows, and more. NPR One is divided into four sections. Catch Up offers a playback of NPR's latest national news broadcast so you're kept abreast with the events of the day. Up Next offers options for what you should listen to after your current program. If you follow any shows, Followed Shows is where you'll find them. Finally, Recommended shows you NPR programs that it thinks you'll like based on your listening history.

Free - Download Now (opens in new tab)

MLB At Bat

MLB At Bat's CarPlay app is the perfect companion for baseball-loving road warriors. While it doesn't offer video (you're driving!), you can listen in to any available games with MLB At Bat's radio feature. Open the app to get a list of available games, including a notation about the game's current inning. Then just tap on the game you want to listen to and pick which side's radio station you want and you're good to go.

In order to listen to games with MLB At Bat, you will need to subscribe for $3 or $20 per year.

Free - Download Now (opens in new tab)

Spotify

If Apple Music isn't your thing, or you're a long-time, die-hard Spotify user, the world's most popular streaming music service has you covered. While you don't get the benefits of Siri on your drive with Spotify, you still have the service's vast library with you wherever you drive. The app is divided into Your Library, Browse, and Radio sections. Your Library, as you might imagine, gives you access to the music that you've added to your personal collection, from albums to playlists. With Browse, you can check out and listen to new releases, Spotify's top lists, or find what to listen to among the many available genres. Finally, Radio gives you your recent stations, recommended stations, and stations based on genres.

Free - Download Now (opens in new tab)

Pandora

Of all of the apps on this list, it's perhaps Pandora that really nails what a CarPlay app is all about. Open up Pandora, tap a radio station, and you're done. Pandora will just start playing. You don't need to switch between any menus or find the perfect playlist with that song you just love. The trade-off for this simplicity, is, obviously, a lack of choice, but if you're using Pandora, you likely know that this is part of the deal with the service, anyway. You don't care either because you're already listening to a cool new track you've never heard before in your Lord Huron radio station.

Free - Download Now (opens in new tab)

WhatsApp

WhatsApp is unique among the apps on this list in that it doesn't really have a traditional touch interface. While there are a couple of buttons that can appear, the primary way you interact with the WhatsApp CarPlay app is through Siri. Just like the Messages CarPlay app, you can ask Siri to read your WhatsApp messages, or you could dictate messages or place calls. It's not as full-featured as the Phone app, for instance, but it's fairly distraction-free. Isn't that what we want in a car-bound app, anyway?

Free - Download Now (opens in new tab)

Your favorites?

Do you have a favorite CarPlay app that didn't make this list? Let us know in the comments.

Update July 2018: While most of the apps here remain the best, WhatsApp has been added, along with new screenshots for the existing apps.

Joseph Keller is the former Editor in Chief of iMore. An Apple user for almost 20 years, he spends his time learning the ins and outs of iOS and macOS, always finding ways of getting the most out of his iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac.

8 Comments
  • I'm surprised iHeartRadio didn't make this list. With the iHeartRadio Music Awards that happened last night with all the current pop stars, this premium radio network seems a pretty big deal.
  • I like Downcast for podcasts - like Overcast it syncs progress across all my devices so when I get in the car, it knows where I left off.
  • TuneIn in free version is good in Car Play. For podcasts I actually prefer Podcast native app after having used others at times.
  • I just wish more apps like Telegram, Calendar and Weather were available. I'd also LOVE to see a popdown toast message of the track that just started playing in Apple Music (or whatever music app) while Maps is the focus so I could tell if I want to skip or listen. I also like how the picture at the top of the article is Carplay in 10.3 not 10.2.1. Nicely done.
  • I agree with all of this. A simple weather app would be awesome. Even if it just had the weather icon like it shows in the iPhone weather app... maybe you could tap it and Siri could read out the forecast. One thing I'd love in Apple Music is a simple search button. Just make it one of the tabs at the top. I hit the search button and say the name of the band I want to listen to. It then pulls up a list of albums on the display like it does for any band in my library. Saves me from having to say "search Apple Music for ______," and then switching over to my phone to sift through the results (or, more likely, use my phone to manually enter it into the music app)
  • I think if you do "Hey Siri, Play <band>." that it'll do the searching for you and try to play that artist. I've got some 13k mp3/aac files on my phone .. years and years of buying music so I don't usually run out of things to listen to. :)
  • Was gonna give Castro a spin, but they want 3.99 for it. So not free as stated.
  • I'd really like to see a home/notifications area kind of like android auto that shows what's playing, your maps and notifications instead of jumping from app to app.
    Nice thing that 10.3 is making it a bit better with the recent apps on the side. Sent from the iMore App