With the 2020 Prius Prime, Toyota Is Finally Getting Serious about CarPlay

Hand Tapping CarPlay Screen Credit: Hadrian / Shutterstock
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When Apple debuted CarPlay in 2014, car manufacturers were less than enthusiastic about the in-car iPhone integration, and it understandably took a while for many of them to fully embrace the technology. However, even two years later, after almost every other manufacturer had gotten on board in at least some way, Toyota remained a stubborn holdout based on irrational fears about giving up too much control to a tech giant like Apple.

It was an ironic position for a company that was one of the first to produce a mainstream hybrid car in the form of the Prius, and even more puzzling considering that the car-maker was initially a “committed CarPlay partner” when the feature debuted in 2014. By the time the dust settled, however, Toyota had decided that it was better off joining the SmartDeviceLink Consortium to back an in-car infotainment system that would be completely under the control of the auto industry, rather than ceding ground to outsiders like Apple and Google.

It’s clear, however, that SmartDeviceLink didn’t exactly work out as well as the carmakers hoped, no doubt due to the fact that they were out of their depth trying to build the kind of smartphone integration that Apple and Google has already baked into their core mobile operating systems.

So just when Toyota and Apple fans had pretty much given up hope of their vehicles ever properly supporting their iPhones, Toyota tacitly admitted the failure of its own plans, embracing CarPlay last year for at least some of its 2019 auto lineup, beginning with the Avalon sedan, and followed by the Corolla and Tacoma, as well as select Lexus models.

Toyota’s take on CarPlay remained wrapped up in its own Entune 3.0 system, however, which boasts a number of other smart and connected car features, such as Remote Connect and Wi-Fi Connect, along with its own app suite. A similar system, Enform 2.0, brought CarPlay support to select Lexus models. However, Toyota still stopped short of making the feature available as widely as other car-makers, limiting it to only select models and trim packages.

This week, however, Toyota offered a surprise for 2018 Camry and Sienna owners with the news that it would be offering CarPlay retrofits to bring the technology to those models, saying that it wanted to offer the feature to “some of its most popular vehicles already on the road,” according to Car and Driver. While the retrofit offer seems to be limited to only those specific year models for now, it seems likely this is a first step to eventually expanding to other families of Toyota vehicles and even older-year models.

One conspicuous omission in Toyota’s support for CarPlay has been the Prius, which has traditionally been hailed as the company’s most high-tech car due to its hybrid system. However, it looks like Toyota is finally ready to surrender this last bulwark, announcing today that the 2020 Prius Prime — the plug-in version of the hybrid — will get support for CarPlay along with a slew of other new improvements.

Notably, Toyota is also bringing CarPlay to the Prius Prime as a standard option across all trim levels, meaning that customers won’t have to pay extra for it, although sadly it seems that wireless CarPlay won’t be in the cards here — as with all of Toyota’s other CarPlay systems, you’ll still need to plug your iPhone in via a USB to Lightning cable.

The 2020 Prius Prime is expected to be available this summer with a starting price of $27,600, and hopefully as Toyota continues to announce its lineup 2020 vehicles, we’ll see it also coming to other Prius editions.

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