iOS 7 preview: iOS in the Car hints at the future of iOS everywhere

iOS in the Car isn't arriving this year with the rest of iOS 7. It's currently scheduled to arrive in 2014 instead, and that's because it requires the support of car companies, who have to enable the ability to receive it into their in-dash display systems. Traditionally Apple hasn't done as well when they have to depend on other companies, but the potential of iOS in the Car seems to go further than just the car. Indeed, it could provide our first hints of iOS everywhere, and that's incredibly exciting for 2014, and beyond. However, Apple touts 95% of car makers already include some form of iPod/iOS device integration, so what better place to start?

Here's how Apple (opens in new tab) 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.

And here's what they've shown off so far:

  • iOS in the Car provides for four basic functions: Phone, Music, Maps, and Messages.

  • There's a virtual Home button, as well as a cellular signal strength and type indicator (i.e. LTE), and a battery level indicator for the connector iOS device.

  • iOS in the Car works on your car's built-in dash display, or via voice with Siri Eyes Free.
  • All the app interfaces look similar to their iOS device counterparts, providing a consistent experience.
  • The Phone interface has controls for end, keypad, add call, and mute.

  • The Music interface has controls for skip back, play/pause, and skip forward.

  • Maps has controls for search, time, bookmark, info, current location, add, remove, and 3D.

  • Maps also offers turn-by-turn navigation, of course.

  • You can receive Messages while in other apps, and they can be read to you, and you can respond, via Siri Eyes Free.

  • Car companies and brands which are said to be supporting iOS in the Car including Honda, Mercedes, Nissan, Ferrari, Chevrolet, Infinity, Kia, Hyundai, Volvo, Acura, Opel, and Jaguar.

Most cars already have an operating system or two. They have what runs the base car functionality, the stuff that gives mechanics diagnostic information when they hook in before service, the stuff that manages all the moving parts while you're driving. I wouldn't be surprised if that was BlackBerry's QNX or embedded Linux. Nowadays some also have user-facing interfaces, either based on Microsoft's technology, like Ford Sync, or something similar. Android could eventually be a player there as well, displacing embedded Linux. Apple, it seems, has no interest in either running the core, or the entertainment system. It just wants to take over the display.

That's the same strategy Apple has employed on TV so far. Who cares who makes the OS that runs the actual TV, Apple TV, or an iOS device via AirPlay, simply takes over the display.

That means you don't have to upgrade your car to upgrade the system; whenever you get a new iOS device, you get whatever new power and technology come with it. Likewise, you don't have to depend on Microsoft, BlackBerry, or Google + manufacturer for software updates; whenever iOS gets updated, conceivably iOS in the Car can be updated with it. And Apple's got a pretty good record so far of updating both iOS hardware and software.

Unfortunately, Apple hasn't said anything about third-party apps and iOS in the Car yet. While we'll certainly be able to do everything we used to be able to do, including push streaming internet radio, podcasts, audio books, and more to our cars, the idea of App Store developers being able to include iOS in the Car-specific interfaces for their apps seems compelling. Not all apps, of course, and perhaps an additional level of developer program would be needed to ensure quality and safety, but getting Pandora, Pocket Casts, or Audible up on the in-car display in a way specifically designed for it would be tremendous.

So would increased functionality from Apple. Again, everything that can already work will still work, like asking Siri about movies and restaurants and sports scores and all that, but just like iOS in the Car has built in support for Messages, having that extend to email, tweets, and all communications would be great.

Also, patching iOS in the Car into the electronic systems, so Siri Eyes Free could control climate, windows, and other functions would be great.

And, of course, seeing Apple project iOS interface beyond just TV sets and Cars, but onto all manner of devices would be fantastic as well. Apple doesn't make the range of products a Samsung or LG make, nor do they have any interest in licensing their operating systems the way Microsoft, BlackBerry, and Google do. However, taking over screens neatly sidesteps both those issues, and keeps Apple in control of the experience, which they're fond of. So we'll see.

Meanwhile, iOS in the Car brings us one step closer to Tony Stark's Jarvis from the Iron Man movies, and that's something any futurist worth their sci-fi should appreciate. It ships not with iOS 7 in the fall, but later in 2014. Check out the resources below for more, and let me know - will iOS in the Car support be something you want in your next car?

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • I would be VERY interested in iOS in the car... Do you think there is any hope that it might be brought as a standalone app to iPad/iPhone? I know of several people who have mounted iPad Mini's in their cars, trying to accomplish this same feat. Currently, I use Siri (by holding the home button), to read off text messages or call people over the basic Bluetooth in my car. I could very easily see this as an app that can be launched on iPad/iPhone when in the car to reduce the amount of interface required to use the phone in the car. Here is to hoping, because I wont be replacing my car or car stereo anytime soon!
  • wasn't this article published earlier? Anyhoo, as I mentioned before; I like this direction but this is the second attempt for Apple to get any of their tech in the car (notice last years WWDC announcement was not even mentioned this year). I hope it happens, but Cue can't strong arm the auto mfgs like he does to others, so I'm not sure if this will get any traction than the Siri button of last year. Furthermore, Apple is relying on USB and WiFi as well as touch screens. All of which are being phased out by car mfgs (the jog dial seems to be popular these days). Touch screens in particular are an issue for Apple because auto mfgs are removing them due to liability lawsuits. What's interesting is the demo environment they used in the above screen caps. The screen takes up the entire center console meaning stuff like air conditioning controls would be either removed or relegated to top top of the car. Also the screen has to be placed in a lower position, not recessed from the dash (for glare). Still, I like this approach from Apple even if I don't see any of the auto mfgs biting on it.
  • Was there ever any mention of an aftermarket stereo? I don't want to buy a new car just to have this functionality, but I wouldn't mind replacing the head unit in my current car
  • I'd love to see iOS in the car. In fact, it's the only reason I'm holding off purchasing a new vehicle this year. I think auto manufacturers will need to integrate iOS to effectively compete, particularly up-scale models where power, handling, and luxury amenities are already very similar. I hope BMW and Landrover consider this. I also think it would be useful to have iOS control beyond just the display i.e. power seat settings, AC/heating adjustment, door lock control, cruise control, etc. Remote engine start, car location, and alarm notification could be integrated as well. The implementation of current dashboard controls using a touch screen, at this time, is somewhat clunky and it seems as though manufacturers don't follow any discernible convention. It would be interesting to see Apple come up with a well designed, comprehensive solution to "enrich our lives."