CarTunes: A Gesture Based Music Player

The way in which we listen to music in vehicles has changed quite a bit over the past 60 years. For the longest time, radio was the only way of to jam to your favorite tunes, but the invention of the 8-track, cassette and compact disc revolutionized people’s ability to listen to music they wanted to on-demand. Nowadays, the majority of new cars feature an auxiliary port (or USB port) that allows you to connect your iPhone (or other music playing device) so that you can listen to any of the hundreds or thousands of songs you have saved.

However, one of the big dangers of using your iPhone to play music while driving is the distraction it causes by making you focus on your device instead of on the road. To help make it a bit safer to drive and control your tunes at the same time, developer Ryan Oksenhorn created CarTunes, a gesture based music player for your iPhone. Find out more after the jump.

AppStorm does not condone any activity that distracts a driver from the responsibilities of operating a motor vehicle. While CarTunes does aim to make it safer to control your iPhone while driving, it’s important that you always follow state laws when using your cell phone while driving.

Getting Started

When you start up CarTunes, you’ll be taken through a tutorial that demonstrates some of the basic functionality of the music player and how to access your music library. What’s interesting about the tutorial is that it doesn’t provide instructions on how to perform all the gestures (it is provided in the App Store description); luckily, you have me as your guide and I’ll touch upon each one of CarTunes lovely gesture offerings.

Introduction to CarTunes

Introduction to CarTunes


While no app can make is absolutely safe to control your iPhone and drive at the same time, the concept and execution of CarTunes is such that you never really need to take your eyes off the road. Once you’re familiar with the moves needed to control your music, it will simply become second nature. To play or pause your music, the most important functionality of any music player, simply tap on the screen.

Play and pause

Play and pause

If you wish to skip to the next track, flick to the left; to reverse the action and return to the previous track (or go to the beginning of the song if you’re more than couple seconds in), flick to the right. You can rewind or fast forward through a song by swiping and holding the perspective gesture, but both are done at a single (slow) speed. To change the volume, swipe up or down on screen with a single finger.

Skipping forward and changing volume

Skipping forward and changing volume

CarTunes offers the option to shuffle your music, which is helpful if you’re into playlists or just listening to all your available music. To turn on shuffling, perform a two-finger flick to the left and you’ll see the shuffle icon (crossing arrows). If you wish to turn off shuffling, perform the alternate action of a two-finger flick to the right (verified by the presence of two straight arrow).

Shuffle on and off

Shuffle on and off

If you’re the sharing type, you can perform a two finger flick downward to share the current song on Twitter. One final gesture, and arguably my favorite, is the ability to play the album from the song that you’re listening to, which is done by pinching on the screen. As someone that’s really into listening to albums straight through, I’ll sometimes attempt to get out of my comfort zone by listening to my library via shuffling (adventurous, I know). More often than not, I’ll change my mind once I hear a song I really love and the desire to listen to the entire album becomes overwhelming.

CarTunes utilizes built-in Twitter support available in iOS 5.

CarTunes utilizes built-in Twitter support available in iOS 5.


To access your library, perform a two-finger vertical flick. I find most of the gestures to be easy to perform, but I’m not a huge fan of needing to use two fingers to access the library (especially when you need to flick vertically). Users that keep their iPhone in a dock or cradle while driving shouldn’t have issues with this gesture, but most of the time I keep my phone laying on the passenger seat, which makes it somewhat awkward to pull off this move. To return to the music player, flick down from the top of the screen with one finger.

Transitioning from music player to the library.

Transitioning from music player to the library.

The library is divided up into five sections — songs, albums, artists, playlists and podcasts. Interestingly enough, gestures do not play a role when browsing through your library; instead, you need to tap the small icons at the top of the screen to navigate between each section. While I can only speculate why Oksenhorn didn’t allows users to simply flick left or right to change sections, I suspect it was done to deter users from browsing the library while driving (a very distracting activity).

Songs, album and artist views

Songs, album and artist views

Playing a song is as simple as tapping on a song of choice in the Songs section. If you prefer to play an album, you’ll need to go to the Albums section, tap on the album and then tap on the song of your choosing. If you’re want to play music by Artist, tap the third icon, tap on the artist’s name and then choose an album (or tap the shuffle option if you just want to play songs by the artist).

The progression of selecting a song from the Artist section.

The progression of selecting a song from the Artist section.


One of the really nice things about CarTunes is that you can customize quite a few things; unfortunately, you’ll need to travel to the Settings app to make any of these changes. Perhaps it’s just me, but I find it surprising when developers use this option when it’s much more convenient for the user to tap an icon to access settings from within the app.

To customize CarTunes you'll need to go to the Settings app.

To customize CarTunes you'll need to go to the Settings app.

Most of the available customizations deal with CarTune’s appearance, starting out with a variety of font options (seven in total) that range from simple to elegant to urban. In addition, you can turn off/on the progress bar and time indicators. My favorite customization is the color matching feature, which will make the progress bar and text color match a color in the album art. Finally, you can turn on a clock, which shows the current time (useful since the status bar is not visible while in CarTunes).

A preview of various customization combinations.

A preview of various customization combinations.

Final Thoughts

As I stated previously (and can’t state enough), there is no app that will make it 100% safe while driving and controlling your iPhone at the same time. However, the gesture controls used in CarTunes take a step in the right direction and is about as safe as you can get, short of voice controls. While the focus of my review was based on using CarTunes while driving, it’s really a great app to use as a full-time replacement of the standard Music app.

Full disclosure, I am a subscriber to Rdio and use the iPhone app for all my mobile music listening endeavours, so I’m unable to take advantage of CarTunes and all that it offers. But, if I ever find myself at a point that I’m no longer subscribing to Rdio (or any other music subscription service), CarTunes is most certainly became my go-to music playing app.


Control your music with gestures.

  • Sarah

    Groove 2 can do all of this, too. The only difference is that it also has a ton of other super cool features, it’s interface is better, and it’s $3 less. Just saying..

  • Michael

    I really like CarTunes. I have tried all of the gesture based music apps (FluxTunes, LeechTunes, Groove1 and 2). When your driving, CarTunes is simply the best.

    FluxTunes use to be my favorite but since there are some bugs in it and since it hasn’t been updated in years, I have given up on it.

    LeechTunes UI is simply bad. .

    Groove 2 isn’t really go for on the go or driving purposes (which is what gesture music apps try to shoot for). I love Groove 2, its great, its simply not something that should be used for on the go type stuff.

    • David

      Why not for on the go? You can use all the gestures

      • Michael

        I don’t find it to be easy enough to use on the go. It took time for me to learn all the commands. Don’t get me wrong, its a great app, I just think that its much more complicated and thereby, not the best on the go music app. I like it for lounging at home. Its great for that.

  • Brian G.

    How well does this work with streaming music off of iCloud?

    • Jesse Virgil

      I’d love to be able to answer that question, but unfortunately I don’t subscribe to iTunes Match. From my experience it seems that all music you have in the Music app will be playable within CarTunes.

      Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful.

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  • Joshua Robison

    Can it help me set the EQ? I’m looking for a music player that can set the EQ?

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