Apple plans to move aggressively into the in-car integration space later this year, according to multiple people familiar with the initiative. Apple is working with car makers to deeply embed iOS’s Maps and Siri services into cars, according to these people. While companies sell accessories to place iPhone and other iOS devices on car dashboards for easy access to Apple Maps’ turn-by-turn navigation, Apple wants to break into the space with its own solutions…
According to people familiar with the plans, Apple is working with car makers on updated versions of car center consoles that could attach to iOS devices like the iPhone. Specifically, an iPhone could be plugged into a car and an optimized, redesigned version of Apple Maps will appear on the car’s built-in display instead of a proprietary GPS system found in many cars.
Sources have described this as a feature akin to a video-out or mirrored display representation of the iPhone’s Maps app onto the bigger screens included with most modern vehicles. This is unlike the new Volkswagen iBeetle car that simply holds an iPhone running a third-party app.
With the iPhone connected, Siri would be used to control the Maps functions and other iOS features.
Last year, Apple announced a new “Eyes-Free” Siri service that allows users to connect their iPhone to their car and use Siri with the iPhone’s display turned off. Apple announced at WWDC that it is working with car makers on Eyes-Free, including BMW, Toyota, Audio, Honda, and Land Rover. It is likely that Apple is bolstering its existing partnerships with these same car makers to take advantage of the new Maps and Siri car-integrated offerings.
While the new car functionality is based on technologies in iOS 7, sources warned that a public release could be potentially be far off. Roadblocks that Apple will need to overcome before the feature launches to the public include more extensive car-based testing, improvements to Apple Maps and Siri infrastructures, and deals with car makers. It is uncertain if Apple plans to debut this new in-car integration at WWDC or at its iPhone hardware event later this year. Because of the processing power that such integration could require, it is likely that the feature will be exclusive to recent iOS hardware.
While Apple’s upcoming plans for an aggressive move into the car space appear limited to Maps and Siri, the two iOS-based functions likely most important for most drivers, we speculate that Apple could eventually look to take Ford and GM head-on in the car center console interface game. There are also interfaces to the car’s on board computers that could be utilized for realtime diagnostics but we haven’t heard specifics in this regard.
Apple’s interest in cars goes beyond future iOS integration. Apple’s Senior Vice President of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue, who happens to now be in charge of Siri and Maps, has long had an interest in cars. At Apple’s 2011 Worldwide Developers Conference, the executive demonstrated the iCloud Photo Stream feature by taking a picture of a toy car featured in a Pixar movie. Additionally, Mr. Cue sits on Ferrari’s Board of Directors. Earlier this year, Ferrari began equipping one of its car models with iPad minis.
Apple co-founder Steve Jobs shared privately that he considered taking on Detroit with a car design of his own. Patents in recent days reveal that Apple is interested in creating software to make unlocking vehicles and findings cars in parking lots easier.
Earlier this year, Apple posted a series of job listings on its website related to iOS device integration with car stereo systems. Apple is seeking Software Quality Assurance testers for stereo compatibility with iOS products. These job listings, which also cover creating software for car integration, require expertise in Bluetooth product testing. This may mean that the aforementioned upcoming features could rely on Bluetooth rather than wired connections.
At a time where Apple’s mapping and voice service offerings have come under fire for lacking the reliability and functionality of the competition from Google, Apple is moving forward on its promise to make its cloud services up to par with its successful products. Apple’s deal-making with car makers will make iOS device features even more central to the lives of Apple’s customers, something that could be difficult for Google to match with its fragmented hardware and software experience.