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A new Apple patent published today by the United States Patent and Trademark office (via AppleInsider) could show some of Apple’s future plans for bringing iOS to the car through its partnership with various car manufacturers. Earlier this year at WWDC, Apple showed off its new iOS in the Car feature that will bring enhanced iOS integration for apps such as Maps and Siri to select vehicles sometime next year. Today, Apple describes how it could also be doing some work on the touch panels that will control these new in-car features. 

The patent, titled “Programmable tactile touch screen displays and man-machine interfaces for improved vehicle instrumentation and telematics,” describes various embodiments of a touch panel dashboard that users can control safely by way of tactile feedback and programmable interfaces:

This invention seeks to dramatically increase the utility of car informational displays and controls, while at the same time enhancing safety by improving sensory data presentation and ease of interaction with vehicle controls and data sources. The programmable nature of the disclosed devices also creates new methods for how data is delivered and utilized… Because it resembles today’s dashboards, and can be used for the basic control functions of the vehicle, the invention provides not only a potential means of telematic connectivity while driving (e.g. with the internet, cellular telephonic sources or the like), but a much more useful display and control system capable of many more functions–including the primary vehicle control functions, if desired.

The inventor listed on the patent is Timothy Pryor, who just so happens to be behind a company known as Digital Dash that was developing “the first instrument panel display and control surface that safe and cost effectively integrates telematics, video, and conventional controls, while maximizing product differentiation and customization possibilities.” The product, called “Digital Dash Reconfigurable Tactile Display (RTD)” included “familiar physical controls, such as knobs, buttons and sliders, in addition to providing touch input, all while remaining totally reconfigurable in software.”

In the video below we get a look at the Digital Dash in what is clearly an early development stage before being scooped up by Apple:

It’s not much of a stretch to imagine Apple is working with car manufacturers to make their touch panels better leading up to the launch of iOS in the Car in 2014. We already know Apple’s iOS in the Car feature will let users control iOS with the car’s built-in display and controls, and most recently we discovered it would do so over WiFi using AirPlay.