iOS in the Car and how Apple could get past licensing and own every screen in the future

Tim Cook: iOS in the Car in very important, and Apple can do automotive better than anyone else

During the Q3 2013 financial results call call today, Apple's CEO, Tim Cook, was asked about the upcoming iOS 7 feature, iOS in the Car and what it meant for Apple. Cook replied that it was "very important". That iOS in the Car would be part of the Apple ecosystem like the App Store and iTunes, like iMessage and Siri. Cook said it was something people wanted, and that Apple could provide it in a unique way, and in a better way than anyone else. He called it a "key focus". But it might just be more than that. Much more.

Currently slated for 2014, here's how Apple describes iOS in the Car:

iOS in the Car seamlessly integrates your iOS device — and the iOS experience — with your in-dash system. If your vehicle is equipped with iOS in the Car, you can connect your iPhone 5 and interact with it using the car’s built-in display and controls or Siri Eyes Free. Now you can easily and safely make phone calls, access your music, send and receive messages, get directions, and more. It’s all designed to let iPhone focus on what you need, so you can focus on the road.

Think of it like AirPlay on the Apple TV, but bi-directional so data can move both to the car display and back to the iOS device. What that essentially does is decouple hardware from interface. Combine that with the new, objectified and dynamic iOS 7 design, and it starts to very nicely map the near future of mobile computing.

iOS can be anywhere Apple wants it to be, not just on their devices, but on any partner device. Today cars, but tomorrow...?

Cars currently have all sorts of built-in operating systems, from BlackBerry QNX to Microsoft SYNC, and likely some flavor of embedded Android floating around. Yet manufacturers today take those things, insert them into the car and/or entertainment system, and then they're done. If and when updates occur, they're often bound to the original hardware sold with the car.

What Apple is doing is fundamentally different. Cars can still run QNX or embedded Linux/Android or whatever. Apple won't care, any more than they care what your TV set is running today. Apple probably wants no part in doing low-level electronics anyway - running the car or TV hardware itself. They want to do and own the user-facing experience. They want to simply take over the display. And when they do, it means that whenever Apple updates iOS, or whenever you buy an updated iOS device, the iOS in the Car experience gets updated with it.

Beyond cars, as manufacturers like LG and Samsung start embedding Android in appliances and offering connected home experiences, questions have arisen as to how Apple can compete, especially given their lack of equivalent product portfolios and disinterest in licensing out their software.

iOS in the Car may answer exactly that. Just like AirPlay and iOS in the Car let them project iOS onto TV and automotive displays, similar technology could expand iOS to all sorts of other devices and displays. Theoretically, we could see the day when anything could and will become an iOS device.

And that's one hell of a play for the future.

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

iOS in the Car and how Apple could get past licensing and own every screen in the future


if true that means each car will need WiFi or USB to make it work since Bluetooth doesn't have the bandwidth. Both technologies aren't really making headway in autos. It may be implemented about as much as last years Eyes Free Siri (meaning not at all). 2014 may see yet another Apple automobile initiative.

I'm also guessing Cue can't strong arm the auto mfgs like he can other companies and that too will cause adoption issues.

The iPhone still has to communicate with the car device. It will have to be plugged into the car wiith a physical cable to have enough bandwidth. I believe that is where richard451 was headed with his comment.

Seriously, this will influence my next car buying decision. Therefore car makers will care. I hate that the dash system is an antique when the car is still basically new. Let it progress with my device power and iOS!

Sent from the iMore App

How about skipping the Android and Apple connections (wired or not) and just coming up with one neutral protocol? Let me buy a device with some new super Bluetooth or something that is brand blind? That way a car has exactly this, but can be accessed by ANY platform that has whatever the standard is? We've done it with all sorts of other wired and wireless connections, why not this too?

iOS in the car may sell well, but it is a non-starter (literally) for me as long as Siri and regular voice commands require a data connection. Dialing (or changing tracks) should not pause 10 seconds or fail altogether just because I am driving down a rural road.

People aren't quite conscious of how much they dislike the television experience, but they are very aware of how much they hate car electronics. I hear it all the time, "I don't use my car's xxx because it never works/is too complicated/won't sync." The segment is quite ripe for disruption.