Apple is finally taking over your dash, integrating iOS with big in-car nav screens via partnerships with a boatload of carmakers and a new feature called CarPlay.
Introduced this week at the Geneva International Motor Show, CarPlay (née iOS in the Car) is the culmination of Apple's plans to fully integrate the iPhone into every car.
"What if you could get iOS on the screen that's built into your car?" asked Apple SVP (and Ferrari board member) Eddy Cue during the WWDC keynote last year when iOS in the Car was first introduced. Apple, which saw huge success pushing iPod compatibility onto automakers last decade, is now in prime position to put its thus-far one-of-a-kind phone/dash integration into millions of cars.
Ferrari, Mercedes and Volvo all introduced CarPlay-compatible rides in Geneva, with Honda, Hyundai and Jaguar promising compatible models later in 2014. Apple has partnership commitments from a dozen other marques including BMW, Ford, GM, Mitsubishi, Subaru and Toyota, too.
Notably missing from that list is VW/Audi, which earlier this year partnered with Google and several other automakers to promote Android as an in-car entertainment platform — though GM, Honda and Hyundai were also involved in that project and all are on board with Apple's initiative.
Apple's Siri digital assistant is heavily integrated with CarPlay, acting as the main point-of-contact for drivers, though it works with the knobs, buttons, or touchscreen in the car as well. It supports a number of native iPhone apps (Maps, Phone, Messages, Music) plus a bunch more off the App Store including Apple's Podcasts, Spotify, Beats Music, iHeartRadio and Stitcher, with more options to come. Notably missing is Pandora, a direct competitor to Apple's iTunes Radio, though that company is clearly hoping to be involved in the future.
Mercedes — shown in the C-Class above — uses both voice input and the control-knob, while both Volvo and Ferrari combine voice control with an in-dash touchscreen. Engadget tried the Ferrari implementation in Geneva and said CarPlay was responsive and easy-to-use.
The first thing we noticed is how speedy everything is. Apps load quickly, and Siri's contextual algorithms hastily recognized our voice commands and responded appropriately. Apple has also implemented safety features to ensure services do not draw your attention away from the road and push forward its "hands-free" theme. For example, when we sent or received a message from a contact, Siri would only read the message back to us and we never once got the chance to see its contents.
Currently, CarPlay only works with iPhones that use the Lightning Cable — the iPhone 5, 5c and 5s — and the phone must be physically plugged in, though Volvo said wireless support is in the works.
When iOS in the Car was revealed nine months ago, it was the first major move by a consumer electronics company to put the features of your phone directly into your vehicle. The list of partner carmakers is impressive, and, if CarPlay lives up to the billing, this is a impressive first salvo in the next automotive tech war.
Jordan Golson is an Apple Columnist for TechRepublic. He also writes about technology and automobiles for WIRED and MacRumors. He has worked for Apple Retail twice and has been writing about technology since 2007.