CarPlay, originally introduced as iOS in the Car, offers full-on automobile integration for Apple's Maps and turn-by-turn navigation, Phone, iMessage, and Music services — including additional apps like Podcasts, Beats Radio, iHeartRadio, Spotify, and Stitcher. Plug your iPhone in via Lightning cable and you can control everything in up to three different ways — Siri natural language voice assistant, capacitive or resistive touch, and knobs, dials, and buttons that work to manage the built-in display.
Ferrari, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Mercedes Benz, and Volvo are all slated to ship CarPlay enabled vehicles in 2014.
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, again based on QNX, or something similar like Microsoft Embedded, and soon, Android in the car. Apple no interest in either running the core, or the entertainment system. It just wants to take over the display.
That means you don't have to go through the excruciating car manufacturing systems to upgrade; 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 for software updates; whenever iOS gets updated, conceivably iOS in the Car can be updated with it. Anyone who has ever fussed with an SD car while seething at the idea of paying $100+ a year for update maps will no doubt appreciate Apple's easy, free upgrade history.
CarPlay and third party apps
Unfortunately, Apple hasn't said much about third-party apps and CarPlay yet. We know Apple's own Podcasts app is there along with iHeartRadio, Beats Music, Spotify, and Sitcher, so at the very least select partner apps have a way of getting onto the display. Whether or not there'll ever be anything like an App Store for CarPlay, or simply a way for any developer to include a CarPlay specific interface for their apps is still unknown. Given the potential for distractions while driving, Apple will probably play it conservatively for now.
CarPlay and the future of iOS everywhere
How far could Apple take CarPlay? 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 CarPlay 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, CarPlay 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.