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Teaching Dad new tech: Apple CarPlay, Siri open old-timer’s eyes

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My father recently retired from decades in the mining industry. About four days later he got bored of being retired and started to fulfil his love of travel, and troubleshooting challenging seismic situations, by going into business for himself.

Now free of an office and a boss, dad began travelling across the country on a not-infrequent basis, as he started his second career.

Dad’s long been a lover of all things high-tech.

But, as many his age can claim, he’s never had a strong relationship with a Smartphone. To dad, the Smartphone is a way to send texts and make phone calls and maybe check the email — but that’s about it.

The other night, dad was complaining about the lack of a navigation system in his vehicle. He contemplated the cost and effectiveness of an aftermarket unit to help him more easily find his way when travelling to mine sites in unfamiliar territory.

Dad drives a few-years-old Volkswagen Tiguan. And, when he told me he’d love to get a navigation system for it, something clicked.

“Does it have Apple CarPlay?” I asked him?

Dad is an iPhone user, and Apple CarPlay is an in-car system, fitted to some vehicles that up-scales selected functionalities from the user’s iPhone into the vehicle’s central display interface.

“What’s that?” he asked.


With Apple CarPlay, contact lists, the Siri voice command assistant, Apple Maps, downloaded podcasts and playlists, and plenty more, are all available on screen, provided you plug the compatible handset in.

Best of all, this is all operated using the same interface you’re already familiar with from your iPhone. Things are arranged in the same way. They work, exactly as they would, on your phone. Even the colours and icons are identical.

Importantly, so is the voice-control interface.

Simply, with Apple CarPlay, the user can manipulate hundreds of functions from their phone, entirely by voice command and, with no need to ever actually touch their phone, or take their eyes off of the road.

Dad and I hopped into the Tiguan. He’d plugged his iPhone in to a USB charger that was stuffed into the 12-volt power outlet on the console.

Nearby was a dedicated USB port.

Pointing to it, I asked dad “have you ever plugged your phone into this?”

Dad said he hadn’t, having assumed this USB port was for a USB thumb-drive full of music. But dad’s generous supply of Clapton and Gabriel and Frampton tracks lives on his iPhone. He figured this meant he couldn’t listen to it in the car.

With his phone plugged in on one end, I removed the USB cord from the USB charger and plugged it into the nearby USB port.

About one second later the touch-screen above started to transform. The Apple logo appeared and then so did a smattering of icons he recognized from his phone.

One of these called up his music library — arranged and indexed in exactly the same way, and with the same interface as on his handset.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” dad said, shaking his head, jaw dropped, as I scrolled through his tracks.

Next, I touched the Siri button. After the chime, I said “remind me to get groceries tomorrow night.” Siri responded “Alright, I’ll remind you tomorrow night.”

“Really?” dad said.

I tapped the Siri button again, and again, and again.

“Set an alarm for 8 p.m. Play me some Peter Gabriel. How many litres is in a gallon? Is it supposed to be hot tomorrow in Montreal? Are there any flight delays out of Sudbury? What’s on my agenda for next Wednesday?”

The list goes on. And on. And all of that, without any need whatsoever to touch the phone, or even look away from the road. Just tap a button, and put Siri to work.

Dad was flabbergasted.

Next, I sent dad a text message.

When it arrived a moment later, he tapped the SIRI button.

“Read text message,” he said.

“Justin says...hi dad...i hope you like using Apple Carplay!” Siri replied.

Dad’s face lit up like a Christmas tree.

“would you like to reply?” Siri asked.

“Yes,” dad said.

“What’s the message?”

“That’s pretty awesome!”

“Sending message,” said Siri.

And, a final command: “Siri, navigate to Nickel Rim Mine in Garson, Ontario.”

(That’s dad’s former workplace).

A moment later, Siri had calculated the route, displayed it on screen, and replied “Starting guidance. You will arrive in about 32 minutes.”

Now, Dad was like a kid in a candy store. Eyes wide, head shaking, jaw agape.

“And this is free?” he asked me.

Yup, provided you’ve got a cellular data plan already, there are no recurring costs. Apple CarPlay simply lets you more easily (and safely) access the functionalities you’re already using on your phone.

This would all dramatically change his time on the road, simply by moving a USB cord from one plug, to the proper plug.

We agreed that, having saved dad hundreds of dollars on an aftermarket navigation system, he would make me a delicious supper of his speciality — barbecued ribs.

I’ll finish with this: This is not the first time I’ve shown someone how to use this feature in a vehicle, where they hadn’t realized said vehicle even had it. There’s also Android Auto, which works the same way, but with Android phones instead of iPhones.

So, check your owner’s manual, or maybe try plugging your phone into that USB port that you’ve perhaps never used before. The results might surprise you.

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