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.