Why Tim Cook described Apple's iOS in the Car strategy as 'very important'
Here's the new iOS form factor you've been waiting for
In the screen shots above, Apple depicts iOS in the Car as having an appearance similar to iOS 7 running on an iPhone, yet it's also as different as the iPhone is from iPad. For example, there's a software home button centered on the bottom of the landscape-oriented display.
Also, typical features of the iOS top title bar, including the mobile carrier strength, current time and battery level are presented on the bottom of the screen. It's also interesting that Apple presents mobile signal strength at all, suggesting that iOS in the Car might require its own data plan.
It's possible the display is simply relaying the signal and battery life of a tethered iOS device that's providing the data signal. That would also explain why a car's built-in display would need to have a battery strength indicator, and potentially harmonize with discovered details pointing to AirPlay support over both WiFi and USB in iOS 7 running on mobile devices.
At the same time, if iOS in the Car necessitated a tethered mobile link to work, it simply wouldn't work for a lot of people who don't (or can't) use tethering on their mobile plan. Apple hasn't publicly announced how iOS in the Car will work with data carriers, but lots of high end cars already include basic 3G data service to support certain features, including navigation and emergency assistance. This is sometimes paid for by a subscription service, or simply bundled into the cost of the vehicle, similar to Amazon's "Whispernet" service for its e-ink Kindle devices.
A new UI for iOS
The user interface of iOS in the Car is also different from iOS devices in other subtle ways, from the "X" close button to dismiss the "traffic overview" panel (shown previously) to the round, easy to target buttons presented for audibly playing an incoming message or to activate 3D persecutive in Maps.
This new user interface is even more evident in the Maps slide shown at WWDC, which presented familiar controls in an auto-optimized layout (above). In contrast with iOS 7 Maps on an iPhone (below), the car display shows larger, simpler icons for search, recent locations, bookmarks and information, as well as simplified location centering and zoom buttons that will likely replace the precise pinch gestures that make sense on a handheld device but not on a dash mounted screen.
The conventional iOS 7 Maps interface for mobile devices not only positions controls differently, but also invites typing text into a search field (a feature that appears to be replaced with Siri or by selecting recent, saved or suggested location bookmarks), as well as offering other features that aren't really car-appropriate, such as Twitter sharing and AirPrint (no word on whether iOS in the Car maps will support satellite or Flyover imagery, but it will no doubt include iOS 7's new night mode).
How iOS in the Car presents Maps is also dashboard-optimized, with fewer location labels and more apparent street labels when compared to iOS 7 on an iPhone at a similar zoom level. Specifically, there are more parking locations highlighted, a similar number of significant landmarks (albeit without a lot of text), but no transit stops and none of the many schools, coffee shops, hotels, bars (and Apple Store) labels that make Maps on the iPhone too busy to easily read with a quick glance.
In general, iOS in the Car also appears to lack the conventional Home Screen of Apple's iPhone and iPad, using Siri as its default interface instead. Additionally, the phone screen is missing three buttons on the iPhone when making calls: there's (understandably) no FaceTime or Speakerphone button, but there's also none for Contacts, reminding you that iOS in the Car is designed to be navigated by voice through Siri, rather than being a busy interface full of buttons to fuel distracted driving.
This means Apple now has four distinct user interfaces: one for Macs, one for iPhone and iPod touch; one for iPad, and a familiar but new Siri-centric, iOS for the Car user environment thoughtfully optimized for safer, Eyes Free automotive use.
The next segment Why Apple is revving iOS in the Car for an aggressive 2014 launch 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.