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How to use your phone while driving properly - and legally

Japanese carmaker Mazda is the latest to add Apple CarPlay to its lineup, as the feature continues to trickle from the luxury world into the mainstream.

BT_20181123_MAZDA23B_3625353.jpg
CarPlay is Apple's smartphone-to-car integration feature that was originally released in 2014. However, its adoption by carmakers outside of the United States has taken some time.

BT_20181123_MAZDA23B_3625353.jpg
CarPlay is Apple's smartphone-to-car integration feature that was originally released in 2014. However, its adoption by carmakers outside of the United States has taken some time.

Singapore

A S$1,000-DOLLAR smartphone might not raise eyebrows these days, but having one pair efficiently with a car's infotainment system has been something reserved mostly for luxury models so far.

But two of the latest new cars to come with Apple CarPlay come from Mazda, and they provide an example of how the once relatively exclusive phone-car interface system is seeing its availability accelerate in the mass market.

CarPlay is Apple's smartphone-to-car integration feature that was originally released in 2014. However, its adoption by carmakers outside of the United States has taken some time.

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The software now comes with the Mazda CX-9 sport utility vehicle (SUV), which costs S$186,800 with Certificate Of Entitlement (COE) as well as the more affordable Deluxe Plus variants of the popular Mazda 3 1.5 sedan and hatchback, which cost S$S92,300.

Reps from Mazda say the brand plans to expand CarPlay to the rest of its lineup gradually next year, and include the feature in any model equipped with Mazda's MZD Connect infotainment system.

Among mainstream brands, Honda arguably led the way in smartphone integration. In 2014, the Japanese brand launched its own system for iPhones, HondaLink, which was subsequently replaced with CarPlay in its Civic sedan in 2016.

Korean brand Kia also began rolling out CarPlay from 2016 in the Sportage SUV, as well as its mainstream sedan, the Cerato.

Until now, CarPlay's availability here was mostly limited to cars from luxury brands such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, especially since those makers tend to equip their machines with the large touchscreens needed to make the system work.

Android's equivalent, Android Auto is even further behind the curve. While it's been available overseas for years, it only appeared as an officially Google-sanctioned app here very recently. Both Mazda and Kia's systems also support Android Auto.

We tested Apple CarPlay on the Mazda CX-9 by plugging in an iPhone into the USB port in the car's armrest storage section.

The smartphone's apps and functions are then reflected and controlled via Mazda's MZD Connect system, which has both a touchscreen and a rotary controller.

Not all apps are CarPlay compatible (no one in their right mind would play Candy Crush while driving), but you can perform the usual driving-focused smartphone functions such as selecting and playing music, or using either Apple's native Maps app or Google Maps to navigate the roads.

CarPlay works best with Siri, so you can utilise voice control to set your destination ("Siri, take me to the nearest hawker centre?"), or to read out and reply to messages, without taking your hands off the wheel.

Mazda's integration is also clever in that it disallows touchscreen control once you're on the move.

Arguably, CarPlay's most useful feature is that it'll allow drivers to use their phones effectively, and without touching them since having your phone in-hand while driving is against the law, with violators facing fines of up to S$1,000 and/or six months in jail.

Many drivers circumvent this by using a dashboard smartphone mount, but in this case, we found the combination of a large display screen and the Mazda's rotary controller to be far less distracting to use.

The usefulness of smartphones means they're likely never going away, so Apple's CarPlay is the best way to maximise an iPhone's utility and drive, all while playing it safe.