Gaia GPS recently released an update to the app which provides support for Apple CarPlay! 

From Gaia GPS – “Today, we’re excited to deliver one of the most requested features yet — Apple CarPlay compatibility. This marks the first-ever CarPlay app built for offroad and overland adventures.”

Gaia GPS in Apple CarPlay will allow you to:

  • Display your Active map layers on the CarPlay screen
  • Zoom in and out, pan the map in any direction, and toggle course-up mode
  • View a list of your drivable Saved Routes
  • Follow turn-by-turn directions for the selected Saved Route
  • Cancel Navigation

Note: Due to limitations set by Apple, CarPlay is not compatible with iPads.

The good news is that CarPlay is included with most new vehicles. 

Gaia was nice enough to provide us with a radio for testing purposes. A major update to our 2011 FJ Cruiser. We are testing CarPlay on a Kenwood DMX906S radio. 

CarPlay Homescreen with Gaia GPS icon!

How It Works

CarPlay is used in conjunction with your phone. Most of the control features are still required to be done on your phone vs the CarPlay app. Many of these restrictions are based on Apple requirements.. Apple doesn’t want drivers to be distracted. They do not provide a means to override this if a co-pilot wants to navigate. From Gaia GPS: “Important note about feature availability and safety:

Due to the inherent risks of using a screen while operating a vehicle, Apple employs strict restraint on what features can be available and how the implementation can behave in CarPlay.”

The CarPlay screen mirrors what you have active on your phone. If you change the map layer or percentage of layers this quickly mirrors on the CarPlay screen. Start a track and your track line will also appear. 

Any of your visible tracks and waypoints appear on the screen as well. Remember in the app you have the ability to turn tracks and waypoints on and off. 

Satellite imagery while on a route.

Route Selection and Turn By Turn

Planning is best done prior to getting in your vehicle using your phone, tablet, or Then when you are ready get in your vehicle, connect to CarPlay and go. Our Kenwood features wireless pairing to CarPlay which is really nice. 

Any routes created in Gaia GPS either from the app or on that use “Driving mode” to draw a route can provide turn-by-turn directions. On the trail you won’t receive guidance for every curve in the trail but will receive guidance when transitioning/turning on to a different forest road. 

Turn-by-turn routing example.

How We Use CarPlay

CarPlay will supplement and enhance what we already use. We are long time users of Gaia, (7 years, and already have a nice iPad mount in our vehicle. This still provides the most flexibility and an even larger display. What we love about CarPlay is now we can run a different dedicated map layer on the radio. On our recent trip to the Kofa Wildlife Refuge we had the Gaia Satellite imagery on our car radio and Gaia Topo on our iPad. We found this to be highly effective with no need to stop and adjust layers while driving. Unless you have a “co-pilot” always make a quick stop to make any adjustments! 

NatGeo Layer

What We Would Like To See In The Future

If Apple provides the functionality Pinch and Zoom would be nice. The app provides zoom in and zoom out capability with standard CarPlay buttons but the ability to pinch, zoom, and scroll the map by simply touching the screen would be nice. 

Reverse routing would be helpful. Today if you create a route from A to B Gaia can only give directions from A to B. If you want to reverse your route, B to A, the turn by turn functionality does not work. In the meantime you can easily follow a track you have recorded on top of your route. This will prevent CarPlay from showing any erroneous turn by turn information. 

The ability to start and stop a track via the CarPlay screen would also be nice but since this is easily done on your phone we don’t feel this is a major requirement.  

In Summary

Even with its limitations, the new CarPlay functionality is a great addition. Gaia is the first to market. We expect additional features down the road as long as Apple provides a means for 3rd party developers to create them. The requirement to manage many of Gaia’s features from your phone is no deal-breaker. For those with a newer vehicle with CarPlay already built in this is a great addition. 

We look forward to testing the turn-by-turn features further. Our iPad mount required drilling into our dash and bolting in a RAM mount. Yes, there are other solutions but we found this to be the best support while bouncing down the trail. If you don’t want to make the investment in a quality mount or purchase a tablet CarPlay provides a big boost to situational awareness from a smaller phone screen. 

We thank Gaia GPS for providing 4XOA with the radio. Gaia GPS has been a great company to work with over the years. They listen to its customer base and continually improve the app on a regular basis. It has been our go-to navigation app for 7 years and we see no reason to change. We try the competition to make sure!

You can read the official press release from Gaia GPS here.

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Additional Screenshots

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