and Jeremy C. Owens
In another move along the road to weaving smartphone technology into your driving experience, Apple announced Monday that select car manufacturers will soon begin offering CarPlay, a system that brings iPhone features and its Siri voice-activation system right into the dashboard.
The move, announced at the Geneva International Motor Show, is an aggressive foray by Apple in the growing battle with Google and others to make mapping, messaging and music as much a part of the automotive zeitgeist as honking the horn. With 80 million new vehicles sold each year, the automobile represents a potential gold mine for any tech company that can dominate the space. Earlier this year, Google announced its Open Automotive Alliance to work with automakers to bring Android technology to cars.
Apple says CarPlay will allow users to access the iPhone's features by touching icons on an in-dash console or activating Siri through a button on the steering wheel. Billed by Apple as "the best iPhone experience on four wheels," CarPlay will debut later this year in vehicles from Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo, with other carmakers such as Ford and Honda joining the pack "down the road," according to a news release.
"CarPlay has been designed from the ground up to provide drivers with an incredible experience using their iPhone in the car," Greg Joswiak, Apple's vice president of iPhone and iOS product marketing, said in a news release. "iPhone users always want their content at their fingertips and CarPlay lets drivers use their iPhone in the car with minimized distraction."
Apple's announcement raised more questions than it answered. Most significant, it's unclear whether the new cars that feature CarPlay will also allow a driver to use an Android or Windows device, or whether a buyer might select one system over another as an add-on option. While Apple did say that CarPlay would work with a variety of third-party apps, including Spotify and Beats Radio, it did not say whether only iOS-generated content would appear on the console. Some news reports said the technology would work only with an iPhone, but Apple wouldn't comment. And while a Volvo spokeswoman said it was too early "to discuss such specifics," the company's news release seemed to suggest the new XC90 SUV would handle only iOS devices.
Volvo said CarPlay at first will require the user to plug the iPhone in with a cord, but that Wi-Fi connections are "coming in the near future."
CarPlay is essentially a re-branding of Apple's operating system iOS in the Car, a product first unveiled last year at the Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco.
"This is another big step in connecting different technologies together," said analyst Avi Greengart with Current Analysis. "If you bought a new car in the past few years, you could connect your smartphone to the sound system but it was often a lousy connection. With CarPlay, Apple is trying to provide that connection in a smoother and more standardized way."
The reason, said Greengart, is to stake a claim in a burgeoning new profit center.
"We're clearly moving toward a digital car," he said, "and the dashboard is the main focus."
Once CarPlay rolls out in cars with Apple's initial three partners, 13 other manufacturers expect to feature the technology in the future, including Ford and GM.
Noticeably absent from the third-party apps that CarPlay will accommodate is Pandora Media, the Oakland-based streaming-radio pioneer that has worked hard to integrate its product with automobiles.
"At this time, Pandora is not integrated with Apple CarPlay," Pandora said in a statement, pointing out that "there are more than 130 vehicle models that include a native Pandora integration available from 26 major auto brands."
Contact Patrick May at 408-920-5689; follow him at Twitter.com/patmaymerc.
Features: Make calls, use Maps, listen to music, access messages.
Controls: Touch the in-dash console or push-and-hold steering-wheel button to activate Siri.
Devices: Works with Lightning-enabled iPhone 5S, iPhone 5C and iPhone 5
Partners: Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo, followed later by others, including BMW Group, Ford, General Motors and Honda.
Third-party apps: Spotify, Beats Radio, iHeartRadio and Stitcher.