This dongle can upgrade you to wireless CarPlay for cheap

Posted:
in iOS edited September 13
Wireless CarPlay is still scarce, but there is a way for existing CarPlay users to break free of wires inexpensively, and we've been testing it for months now.

Using CarPlay wireless
Using CarPlay wireless


2021 update: CPLAY2air has ceased operations. Amazon carries a number of alternative wireless adapters, and you can filter the results based on your vehicle's make and model.

Editor's note: We stumbled across this dongle some time ago. In the three months since we originally published this piece, we've had questions about it, and we've had more time to test it in more conditions.

Wired CarPlay is near-ubiquitous among newer vehicles, with only a few recently making the jump to wireless. Ford announced several vehicles will go wireless with a new Sync 4 update and Uconnect 5 from FCA will also bring wireless CarPlay to a massive number of vehicles.

Unfortunately, that leaves everyone else out in the cold currently relying on their existing wired CarPlay setups. Typically, the only real cost-effective ways to get wireless CarPlay is to wait until you step up to a new vehicle or pony up some big cash for an aftermarket head unit, such as the Pioneer AVH-W4400NEX receiver we tested. But, an after-market solution can sometimes cause problems with integrated electronics, like backup cameras or remote starter systems.






Fortunately, we've recently stumbled upon a middle ground. There is a way to achieve wireless CarPlay without a replacement receiver and without a new vehicle.

Hack your way to wireless CarPlay

We managed to do this with an external USB box that essentially "tricks" your vehicle into thinking your iPhone is plugged in. There are several versions of this device floating around online though the one we picked up is called CarPlay2Air.

This device connects to your car's USB port that is used for CarPlay. The vehicle then registers this as a CarPlay device. Your iPhone sees this new external receiver as a CarPlay device and will connect to it wirelessly.

What this amounts to in the end, at least today, is seamless, wireless CarPlay.

The CarPlay interface as it connects to your iPhone
The CarPlay interface as it connects to your iPhone


With the adapter installed, wireless CarPlay works like any other official solution. You get in the vehicle, as soon as it boots up, your phone will automatically connect to your infotainment system.

A new loading screen appears for a few moments as your phone connects. This is the one difference between this solution and an official solution.

Wireless CarPlay brings several benefits. Your iPhone's battery life gets displayed on your infotainment screen which leaves you free to keep the phone in your pocket or purse. Fiddly wires become a thing of the past.

Best of all, you can finally use a wireless charger. We hit the road often and have destroyed Lightning cables because a small amount of water has gotten on the pins. A bad Lightning cable means no CarPlay.

Quarrles and quibbles

Not everything is perfect with these wireless CarPlay adapters.

Occasionally when we would use remote start, upon entering the vehicle CarPlay would not automatically connect per usual. This requires us to unplug and re-plug the CarPlay adapter to get it working again. That said, we have also had similar issues with manufacturer installed and third-party wireless CarPlay units so it is hard to peg who's at fault conclusively, in this regard.

There have also been many reports as of late of issues with wireless CarPlay on recent versions of iOS. Again, it makes it hard to particularly different to discern if iOS, the receiver, or the CarPlay adapter are the ones causing this occasional hiccups.

Only a hack

The CarPlay2Air CPlay2Air adapter
The CarPlay2Air CPlay2Air adapter


The bigger issue at play is that these aren't much more than a hack and are in no way supported by Apple. Going forward, there is no guarantee that a new version of iOS doesn't deploy that completely kills how they work. The same goes for many customer-driven projects such as HomeBridge for connecting non-certified accessories to HomeKit.

It is a gamble, but some users -- like me -- see the benefit of that risk for a feature that isn't being delivered by auto manufacturers.

All we know is that these wireless CarPlay adapters -- at least the one we tried -- work for now. Here's hoping they stay that way.

Update

AppleInsider has further reached out to the CarPlay2Air developer for additional clarification on how the adapter works.

According to them, the adapter isn't so much a "hack" as it is a clever piece of engineering. The dongle is mimicking a legitimate CarPlay receiver so the only way that this would be disabled is if other all CarPlay receivers were also broken.

While we can't entirely confirm on our own how the intricacies work of the adapter, this does give us more relief that this piece of hardware won't be deemed useless by a future iOS update.

The other third-party adapters we originally linked to below were more in the vein of a hack and required you to install an app on whichever compatible head unit you have installed. CarPlay2Air does not need to do so and plugs into almost any existing wired CarPlay system.

Where to buy

As mentioned near the top of this page, CPLAY2air has ceased operations. Amazon stocks plenty of alternative adapters, though, with the option to filter results for your specific vehicle.

Read on AppleInsider
watto_cobra
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 56
    chadbagchadbag Posts: 1,521member
    I like wired CarPlay better.  I am not sure if some wireless head units pass vehicle wifi data through but wireless CarPlay uses a BT and WiFi connection from your phone to the CarPlay unit so you end up using your cell data service for connectivity (in my experience).   If your vehicle has a Hotspot built in then a wired CarPlay connection allows you to continue to use that Hotspot and avoid your own phone data.  
    caladanian
  • Reply 2 of 56
    entropysentropys Posts: 3,200member
    I cannot fathom why Apple has never got around to creating just this device. It would be appalling if Apple did not support these people. They deserve to make a fortune. I just hope there isn’t a security issue.

    I have a Kenwood wireless carplay unit in my old mazda3. You  really appreciate the convenience.
    edited January 2020 libertyforallwatto_cobrarussw
  • Reply 3 of 56
    shaminoshamino Posts: 490member
    How's the audio quality?

    I've found that normal Bluetooth audio is often plagued with static and dropouts.  I assume as a result of interference from other 2.4 GHz signals on the road (Wi-Fi and BT from nearby buildings and cars).  Wired audio, whether analog or USB, doesn't have this problem.
    leehammwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 56
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 6,321administrator
    shamino said:
    How's the audio quality?

    I've found that normal Bluetooth audio is often plagued with static and dropouts.  I assume as a result of interference from other 2.4 GHz signals on the road (Wi-Fi and BT from nearby buildings and cars).  Wired audio, whether analog or USB, doesn't have this problem.
    We've been testing for about a month, and so far, so good. We were waiting to see what the new update would do, or if it would cause any problems on release.

    We'll report back if it gets crappy.
    repressthiswatto_cobradewme
  • Reply 5 of 56
    bjs6bjs6 Posts: 1member
    If you order CarPlay2Air from the companies website and choose standard shipping be prepared for a LONG wait. I order my unit on 12/20/2019 and I am still waiting, today is 01/28/2020. The tracking number they gave me is useless, the last update on 12/26/2019 says it passed through customs and so far the USPS has not seen it. I have sent 4 emails to CarPlayAir2 customers service and waited at least 2 days each time for their form letter saying they are tracking my order and not to worry. I did read on another forum that if you pay the extra $10.00 on expedited DHL service it will arrive in about a week to the US. So your mileage may vary, be careful.
    roundaboutnowmontrosemacsrepressthiswatto_cobratlamantia
  • Reply 6 of 56
    zimmiezimmie Posts: 568member
    CarPlay is a pretty simple protocol. It's basically an extension of iPod Accessory Protocol 2. The car first sends a list of capabilities to the phone. This includes things like the dimensions for each display, the safe display area within each overall display area, and the types of user events it supports (Touchscreen? Dial and buttons? Hey Siri?). The phone then sends one or more AVC video streams and zero or more iAP2 text streams (track name, artist, upcoming turn street name in navigation, &c.) to the car, and the car sends a stream of user events to the phone.

    It sounds like this box just starts the wireless handshake, then once a phone connects and asks for capabilities, it establishes a wired connection and relays the messages back and forth.

    I find it very unlikely Apple even *could* break this without breaking all existing Wireless CarPlay units.
    shaminoroundaboutnowlibertyforallrepressthiswatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 56
    New iOS update13.3.1 out today does it still work? 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 56
    entropysentropys Posts: 3,200member
    chadbag said:
    I like wired CarPlay better.  I am not sure if some wireless head units pass vehicle wifi data through but wireless CarPlay uses a BT and WiFi connection from your phone to the CarPlay unit so you end up using your cell data service for connectivity (in my experience).   If your vehicle has a Hotspot built in then a wired CarPlay connection allows you to continue to use that Hotspot and avoid your own phone data.  
    If you are using a hotspot instead of LTE why would the head unit care? Are you saying the hotspot gets turned off in favour of the carplay connection? Also does the hotspot has its own LTE connection (and thus its own data service), otherwise there isn’t much point.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 56
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 6,321administrator
    gfurry said:
    New iOS update13.3.1 out today does it still work? 
    Yes.
    repressthiswatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 56

    ...
    Best of all, you can finally use a wireless charger. 
    ...
    Seems like they should come up with an adapter that integrates wireless CarPlay with a wireless charger. 
    macuserosulibertyforallrepressthiswatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 56
    chadbag said:
    I like wired CarPlay better.  I am not sure if some wireless head units pass vehicle wifi data through but wireless CarPlay uses a BT and WiFi connection from your phone to the CarPlay unit so you end up using your cell data service for connectivity (in my experience).   If your vehicle has a Hotspot built in then a wired CarPlay connection allows you to continue to use that Hotspot and avoid your own phone data.  
    The Hotspot feature takes some intelligent budgeting.

    I can see it would be useful if you have regular passengers, but (at least in Canada) GM's pricing is a bit steep compared to what you can get on most shared data plans.

    11GB monthly cost is within $5 of my entire plan with unlimited data (slows after 10GB) and unlimited Canada-wide long distance (phone? who does that?).
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 56
    docno42docno42 Posts: 3,660member
    Wireless CarPlay never made sense to me.  Especially if you use an app like Waze, there is no way wireless charging can keep up and your battery will die.

    I guess if you only do short trips it could be worth it; but seriously it's just not that big a deal to plug the phone in and get the charge boost.  Although I have to say with the iPhone 11 battery life seems dramatically approved, but I still would't want to waste it with wireless in a car.
    beowulfschmidtMplsPwatto_cobrajace88
  • Reply 13 of 56

    ...
    Best of all, you can finally use a wireless charger. 
    ...
    Seems like they should come up with an adapter that integrates wireless CarPlay with a wireless charger. 
    I agree.  I would love an all in one product.  I would also be happy if Apple would make a Carplay app so I can just use my phone in landscape. 😁
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 56
    I purchased this exact dongle (CarPlay2Air) late last year and it took a month to get it through a crappy Chinese delivery company 4PX. The company that sold it had a US address listed on their website but they really reside in Lithuania and their product ships from China. The after sales service is the worst I ever experienced. I really regret the purchase as it did not work in my VW from day 1. After many software updates it still did not work as advertised. It kept cutting in an out, audio quality was poor and had intermittent connection. I was lucky got a response from the company within a week after sending each email. They are terrible. So I returned the dongle in December 2019 and one month later still have not received a refund even though I have it confirmed that they received the dongle back as I sent it by registered mail. They advise that their "team" is looking into it - just BS.

    My strong recommendation is STAY AWAY FROM THESE PEOPLE AND THEIR PRODUCT!

    watto_cobrajace88unbeliever2
  • Reply 15 of 56
    For those you have one, could you please give the dimension of the dongle and the size of the cable ?
    Thank you
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 56
    crampub said:
    For those you have one, could you please give the dimension of the dongle and the size of the cable ?
    Thank you
    If you look at the picture of it, and the hand holding it, it should give you a pretty good idea of the size and length of the cable. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 56
    docno42 said:
    Wireless CarPlay never made sense to me.  Especially if you use an app like Waze, there is no way wireless charging can keep up and your battery will die.

    I guess if you only do short trips it could be worth it; but seriously it's just not that big a deal to plug the phone in and get the charge boost.  Although I have to say with the iPhone 11 battery life seems dramatically approved, but I still would't want to waste it with wireless in a car.
    Except my Chevy Blazer RS has wireless charging, only thing missing is wireless CarPlay, then it would be a complete solution!
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 56
    crampub said:
    For those you have one, could you please give the dimension of the dongle and the size of the cable ?
    Thank you
    If you look at the picture of it, and the hand holding it, it should give you a pretty good idea of the size and length of the cable. 
    Yes but I would like the real size to be sure I can put it somewhere in my car
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 56
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 3,441member
    docno42 said:
    Wireless CarPlay never made sense to me.  Especially if you use an app like Waze, there is no way wireless charging can keep up and your battery will die.

    I guess if you only do short trips it could be worth it; but seriously it's just not that big a deal to plug the phone in and get the charge boost.  Although I have to say with the iPhone 11 battery life seems dramatically approved, but I still would't want to waste it with wireless in a car.
    This is my thought exactly. Wireless charging is inherently slower and less efficient and dependent on proper placement on the pad. If you have a case it cuts the charging rate even more. Mapping apps have historically used a fair amount of juice, so if you’re streaming music and using a map I can easily see your power usage outstripping the charging rate. An actual charging cable is quicker, more efficient and more reliable.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 56
    entropysentropys Posts: 3,200member
    docno42 said:
    Wireless CarPlay never made sense to me.  Especially if you use an app like Waze, there is no way wireless charging can keep up and your battery will die.

    I guess if you only do short trips it could be worth it; but seriously it's just not that big a deal to plug the phone in and get the charge boost.  Although I have to say with the iPhone 11 battery life seems dramatically approved, but I still would't want to waste it with wireless in a car.
    I have a cactus battery in my iPhone 7 (81% capacity). It uses about ten percent every half an hour on wireless carplay. Mrs Entropy’s XS Max the battery drain on wireless carplay seems a tad higher than if she was say, just browsing on LTE, but TBH not very noticeable. I think on the wireless charger it’s keeps charge, but she can’t leave her phone alone long enough to let me test it.

    wireless carplay is great and very convienient for general quick trips and commutes. If I was on a long cross country trip I would just plug it in. It is not an either or situation. Wireless carplay is a highly desirable feature.
    watto_cobra
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