Repurpose Old IPad As a Hands-Free Car Assistant




Introduction: Repurpose Old IPad As a Hands-Free Car Assistant

About: I'm a life-hacking reuse junkie who loves to create, even if all I'm making is a mess. I love hammers and rocks and history and hand planes. I hugged trees before it was cool but can still operate a chainsaw...

Reuse is my game, so when I got an iPad Pro for my birthday this year, I started thinking right away about the fate of my older and perfectly functional iPad (4th generation). Eventually it'll end up donated, but I do my donating on a direct basis and haven't yet identified its next owner, so until I do...

What I landed on was a dedicated assistant for my ride. It's an F150 with Ford SYNC, an integrated communication and entertainment system that doesn't seem to do either of those things. It will, however, connect my device to the truck's audio system via Bluetooth.

SYNC can only understand a few requests, most of which involve making or receiving calls. (Yawn.) My iPad, on the other hand, can understand quite a few. Using a crazy-easy dash mount, Bluetooth, HeySiri, and a little collection of apps I curated especially for their imagined use on the road, I started putting my assistant to work. Hands free. Just in time for the stricter Distracted Driving laws to take effect here in the lovely state of Washington.

Step 1: Mount the Tablet

At first, I wasn't sure how I was going to mount the iPad in the truck. I considered a stand anchored in the cup holder, or maybe an arm bolted to the seat. When I took the tablet out to survey my options, the answer became obvious. The tray on top of the dash was the perfect size to accommodate the outer flap of my case (a Belkin Dot Folio cover I had picked up at a thrift store for $1.99). The rest is just Velcro.

Installation consisted of taking out the rubber tray insert, placing 4 strips of adhesive-back hook tape in the tray bottom, and sticking the loop tape on my iPad cover in the corresponding spots. I then inserted my iPad and flopped it over into position. It was such a simple solution that I was sure it wouldn't work, but so far it's holding up perfectly. It even stood up to the test of being heated up multiple times, parked in the hot sun.

Step 2: Get Connected, Not Distracted

Since this is to be a car dedicated unit, I erased my iPad data and settings for a fresh start and different set of apps. I use some native preloaded apps like Podcasts, Messages, Phone, Mail, Music, Maps.

The additional apps I downloaded are:

  • Spotify
  • Messenger
  • Waze
  • TuneIn Radio
  • 5-0 Radio (police scanner)

The thing that makes this setup hit for me is "Hey Siri". He (or she, depending on your Siri settings) is always listening, and perks up whenever you say "Hey Siri" to hear your request.

To enable Hey Siri, go to Settings-Siri and turn on "Allow 'Hey Siri'".

The only thing left to do is enable Bluetooth in iPad settings and connect to the onboard Bluetooth. If you have SYNC and set up the connection as primary, it will automatically connect whenever the vehicle is turned on.

That's it, we're ready to roll! Look Ma! No hands!

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13 Discussions

Yes, the Ford system is not fit for purpose. It has a USB port but can't handle standard graphics or anything other than MP3. It makes me wonder why they bothered to source & fit a non-standard display unit. It is such a pain to fit a sensible integrated unit so this use of an I-pad gets my vote. Well done.


11 months ago

A good feature to have would be to do like the VoyagerDash Android app.

Via a bluetooth connection to the OBD-II port, display real-time engine parameters like RPM, horsepower, temperature, etc.

1 reply

I thought about that, but my truck actually does a pretty good job of displaying all of that (or that I would actually care to access, at least) already on a screen in the instrument cluster, so I think it'd be redundant. That is a good feature, though, so thanks for sharing the tip!

Excellent! You are correct about Sync...good for phone calls, that's about it. I will probably burn in hell for all the cuss words I directed at Sync trying to use its driving direction function. Lol

2 replies

The real insanity of Sync is that it knows like 10 words and it pronounces at least one of them wrong ("bluedeath" instead of "Bluetooth"? WTH?!)

Re: hell. I'll be burning right beside you with some of the terrible things I called Siri via my phone when she first came out a handful of years ago. Oh, the things I can't unsay... our relationship soured to the point I stopped using Siri altogether until I could change the voice. I am happy to report Man-Siri and I get along quite well now.

Here's a funny story about Siri. Once, I told Siri to send my wife a text message: "I'M LEAVING NOW", when I was leaving work. Siri heard, and was getting ready to send the text: "I'M LEAVING YOU". I stopped it just in time!


11 months ago

Great stuff! Thanks very much EastFork. Indeed the best would be to hot-spot your cellphone for the WiFi connection. Now where can i find an F150?

Too bad I only have a third generation Ipad (no Siri) and a Ranger (no dash tray)... because this is one neat set-up!

Presuming the iPad has phone service, right? Unfortunately, mine doesn't.

Great idea, though.

2 replies

Hot spot from phone, like Mikeable said. The iPad I used is wifi only. I should have mentioned that.

One option, for those who can, would be to hot spot wifi from your phone

Great idea! thank you!

very inventive! I just happen to have an extra iPad but no F150. Still....