At Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) WWDC conference this week, the company debuted a smorgasbord of new features, including one that got no more than just a couple minutes of recognition -- but could have a huge impact on the automotive industry.
iOS in the Car
At the conference, Apple VP Eddie Cue asked the audience, "What if you could get iOS on the screen that is built into your car ... so that you could make phone calls, play music, go to maps or get your iMessages right on the screen of your car or eyes-free using Siri?" Called "iOS in the Car," this feature will not only allow a user to pair an iPhone with new cars, but will also display iOS features on the vehicle's in-dash screen.
Apple said it already has 12 auto manufacturers on board with the new system, with cars expected to debut with the capability next year.
Skeptics may point out that many car manufacturers already have voice commands for phone, music and texting features -- and that Apple's current pairing hasn't taken off.
And the skeptics would be right.
Don't we already have this?
At least year's Apple WWDC conference, the Siri Eyes-Free feature was introduced. The systems lets drivers ask Siri questions, make phones calls, play music, compose texts, and access Apple Maps -- all through Siri's voice commands. General Motors (NYSE:GM) was the first automaker to bring the new tech to its vehicles, including its lower-priced Chevy Spark.
GM moved first in the space, possibly because its voice recognition system was designed to sync with mobile devices and pass along that information to the car's infotainment system from the start, and it was designed for other devices -- not just the iPhone. GM then adapted its software to be able to handle specific requests from Siri.
But so far GM has only integrated the feature into two of its vehicles. Out of a long list of automakers who initially were listed as in talks to integrate the Eyes-Free system, only a few have so far.
Meanwhile, Apple remains undeterred. The company listed a dozen automakers that it's working with to bring iOS into cars and it appears the company wants in on the automotive space. Like Eyes-Free, the concept seems promising, but Apple and the automakers will need to work together to actually deliver new systems -- which could prove problematic.
Car companies aren't likely to give up complete control of their infotainment system to Apple. Noticeably absent from the iPhone-maker's team of automakers was Ford (NYSE:F) -- it didn't opt for Eyes-Free last year, either. The company already has its own Sync AppLink system that allows iPhone, BlackBerry and Android users to access native apps through the Ford in-dash screen.
Back in January, Ford became the first automaker to open its system up to all developers. The company currently has more than 60 apps on its system. By 2014 it's estimated that over 14 million Ford vehicles will have the app capability. Ford is taking the do-it-yourself approach when it comes to its infotainment system, and so far it doesn't seem to need Apple.
Pairing with investor motivations
For investors, the main thing to keep an eye on is how many vehicles iOS in the Car shows up in, and how consumers respond to it. iPhone users may be very engaged with their phones, but that doesn't mean they want to pair them with their cars.
The other side of the equation is that Apple is just warming up in this space, as are other tech companies. Automakers are developing their own platforms, but in-car operating systems are still in their infancy. Apple may be bringing its iOS to cars at just the right time.
As Apple (hopefully) expands and builds on iOS in vehicles, it could become a greater tool for tapping into the vast Apple ecosystem. Car companies are encouraging developers to build apps for their platforms -- but it'd be much simpler for them to just continue building on the platform they're already used to.
Fool contributor Chris Neiger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Ford, and General Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Ford. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.