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Feature Thursday, July 25, 2013, 12:26 am PT (03:26 am ET)

Why Tim Cook described Apple's iOS in the Car strategy as 'very important'

In the very last minute of its earnings call question and answer session with analysts, Apple's chief executive Tim Cook addressed "iOS in the Car," the company's strategy for automotive, calling it "very, very important" and a "key focus for us." Here's why.

iOS in the Car


This first segment details the origins of iOS in the Car and how Apple details it will work. A second segment examines the competition Apple faces in automotive and why it's pushing so hard for an immediate launch next year, and an editorial examines the strategic importance of Apple's iOS in the Car

What if Apple just came out and told you what it was doing next?



It's telling that the group of Apple analysts on the call, who have long been digging at Apple for clues as to what it might do next (netbooks? TVs? watches?) didn't think to bring up iOS in the Car until literally the last minute of the call.

This is particularly noteworthy given that iOS in the Car was publicly outed last month in the company's Worldwide Developer Conference keynote, where a detailed overview of its features were provided by Eddy Cue, Apple's senior vice president of Internet Software and Services, the group that manages iTunes, iCloud, the App Store, iMessages, Siri and Maps."It's something that people want. And I think that Apple can do this in a unique way, and better than anyone else. And so it's a key focus for us." - Tim Cook

Asked by Raymond James analyst Tavis McCourt if iOS in the Car was a "licensing opportunity" or what the "strategic relevance" of it might be, Cook answered, "I see it as very important."

Cook explained, "It is a part of the ecosystem. And so just like the App Store is a key part of the ecosystem, and iTunes and all of our content is key, and the services we provide from messaging to Siri and so forth, having something in the automobile is very very important. It's something that people want. And I think that Apple can do this in a unique way, and better than anyone else. And so it's a key focus for us."

That's certainly a stronger endorsement than Cook's recent descriptions of the state of Apple TV, which have morphed from a "hobby" to being "a string we keep pulling to see where it takes us."

The origins of iOS in the Car



iOS in the Car appears to be Apple's first significant new hardware product that isn't a standalone device. It's an outgrowth of the company's car integration features, which originated as a way to control music playback from the iPod.

Between the iPod's release in 2001 up until 2003, Apple experimented with basic serial interfaces, starting with iPod Accessory Protocol. This morphed into the more sophisticated Advanced iPod Remote (AiR) with the capacity to depict artist and title information, navigate songs within a playlist, handle shuffle playback and even show album art.

In 2004, Apple launched a program with BMW to provide USB iPod integration in its BMW and Mini vehicles, followed by a 2005 announcement of partnerships with Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Nissan, Alfa Romeo and Ferrari.

In 2007, Apple launched the new iPhone and iPod touch, adding support for Bluetooth integration to control audio playback and support phone calls. In 2010, Apple upgraded its auto integration with iOS 4's "iPod Out," a feature designed to present Apple's familiar iPod interface on a car's built in display.

By that point however, the success of the iPhone and iPod touch were eclipsing more basic iPods, so presenting a simple "classic iPod" as the only interface for vehicle playback ended up a short-lived objective. Additionally, there has been increasing interest by government safety officials to reduce the dangers of distracted driving.

Eyes Free


In response, last summer Apple launched a new initiative designed to focus on iOS by integrating iOS 5's Siri feature into automobiles as a voice-only interface branded "Eyes Free."

Apple's focus on Siri and the new Maps in iOS 6 led AppleInsider to predict last winter that Apple's next major market for iOS was likely to be in automotive, noting that Apple is now "in a position to offer a vehicle's entire entertainment system with the release of Siri-integrated Maps in iOS 6."

Apple introduces iOS in the Car



It's therefore fitting that the enhanced new features of Siri in iOS 7 served as a segue for Cue to introduce iOS in the Car at WWDC. "Siri is also a big part of our next feature, 'iOS in the Car,'" Cue announced to developer applause.

"Now, 95% of cars sold today have integrated music playback and control from an iOS device," Cue said. "But we want to take this integration to a whole 'nother level. What if you could get iOS on the screen that is built into your car?"

iOS in the Car expands upon Siri Eyes Free integration, which Apple introduced last summer with the release of iOS 6, by actually installing iOS in the dash. Apple depicts iOS in the Car as running on a dash-integrated screen installed above a physical power button. In the bezel on either side of the power button, Apple depicts what appears to be LED-illuminated Volume and Home controls.

iOS in the Car UI

Source: Apple


Cue highlighted a series of features iOS in the Car will support, including the ability to "get phone calls, play music, go to Maps, get your iMessages right on the screen of your car, or Eyes Free using Siri." As Cue spoke, Apple depicted iOS in the Car features in a series of slides, which it now presents on its iOS 7 preview website with additional detail.

In addition to initiating a phone call Eyes Free via Siri, as Cue demonstrated on stage, Apple's site notes that "Siri will play back your voicemail and return missed calls, if you ask."

iOS in the Car Phone

Source: Apple


In addition to playing music, again Eyes Free via Siri, through a specific song title request, as Cue demonstrated, Apple now states that you will be able to "use your car's onboard controls for your music, including iTunes Radio, audiobooks, podcasts, third-party audio apps, and more."

iOS in the Car iTunes

Source: Apple


In addition "going to maps," Apple highlights that iOS in the Car will give you turn-by-turn directions, and even "knows when you're leaving home for work — or vice versa — and displays traffic conditions and your ETA with Maps."

iOS in the Car Maps

Source: Apple


Additionally, Apple notes that iOS in the Car will feature the same kind of Apple Data Detectors integration AppleInsider profiled as a new feature in both the upcoming OS X Mavericks and iOS 7, stating that you can "enter an address or let iOS in the Car serve up any address you received in an email or text" (emphasis ours).

iOS in the Car Directions

Source: Apple


Finally, in addition "getting your iMessages," Apple notes that "text messages appear right on your car's display. Siri can read them to you while you listen over your car's speakers. And to reply, just dictate to Siri."

iOS in the Car iMessages

Source: Apple