When I visit my folks in LA, I on rare occasions will borrow one of their vehicles to visit other friends in the periphery — a pal in Studio City, an acquaintance in Silverlake, or maybe even a Griffith Park jaunt by my lonesome. They're very generous with their car time, and I, in turn, repay them by not mucking with their car stereo and adding my phone to their lengthy Bluetooth device list.
In part, that's for my own sanity: My mother's car has poor microphone placement and occasionally spotty Bluetooth, meaning that any attempts to tell Siri to "call Rene Ritchie" end up more like "tall Renaissance Rich Eeze." Not something you want to fight with when you're simultaneously fighting with traffic on a five-lane highway.
After getting the AirPods over Christmas, however, I've discovered a better way: the AirPod Earpiece maneuver.
Obligatory safety note: If you want to use AirPods in the car, please only use one, and don't use it for music. You'll also need to check your local statutes to make sure there's no prohibition on Bluetooth earpieces.
Yes, there's a certain element of feeling like you're a silly businessman from 2003, putting in a single Bluetooth earpiece to summon Siri from your ears. But the convenience factor can't be overstated. Unlike many car systems, the AirPods have an impeccably good microphone — one that also happens to be right next to your face for even better comprehension.
I occasionally used the Apple Watch to dictate commands in the car for similar reasons, but eventually gave it up; the Watch is too fiddly for my tastes while also operating a many-tonned vehicle, and its "Hey Siri" isn't rock solid enough to trust.
But AirPods have neither of those problems. You connect to Siri instantly with a "Hey Siri" shout to your iPhone (if you have it enabled) or a quick double-tap on the earphones, and get all-too-necessary voice feedback in response to your command. Your device understands you better, and you, in turn, understand it. You can hear things like directions more clearly, and get information without having to fiddle. It's a surprisingly convenient lifestyle.
The biggest drawback to this comes for those who use their iPhone to play music on their car stereo over Bluetooth — it's not possible to do that but also use the AirPods to chat. That said, if you have Bluetooth in your car, you may also have a USB media connection; that's the hookup I've been using while driving, and it works great.
Other than that, the AirPods aren't bulky, and they don't silence the outside world — you can put one in and still carry on great car conversation with any potential passengers. And best of all, you can quickly take the headphone out when you're finished and stash it in its carrying case; no need to walk around like a 2000s-era member of the business Borg.
Whether you're driving a pre-CarPlay car for vacation purposes or you simply didn't get your vehicle before Apple's Siri Eyes-Free integration spread across the driving land, I'd recommend trying one of your AirPods in the car rather than fighting with your vehicle's Bluetooth system. One thing's for sure: I've loved using mine this last week — so much so that I may revert to this method when I return home to my own pre-CarPlay car.
How to use AirPods to get CarPlay in an older car
- Pair your AirPods to your iPhone, if you haven't already.
- Open the AirPods case and put a single headphone in your ears.
- Before you turn on the car, make sure the AirPods are connected to your iPhone.
- If you want music through your stereo, hook up your iPhone to your car's USB media port.
- You're ready to drive! Summon Siri by saying "Hey Siri" with your iPhone in hearing range (if you have a compatible device) or double-tap your AirPods.
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