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Apple Moves to Take On Google -- in Your Car

Apple's new CarPlay system will allow you to safely do just about anything with your iPhone while driving, Apple says. Photo credit: Apple.

The Geneva International Motor Show is a big event for automakers and other companies doing business in Europe. Many of those companies used the show's media days to make major product announcements -- including Apple  (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) .

Apple showed off its new CarPlay system, the production version of the "iOS in the Car" initiative that Apple has been talking about for a while now. It'll be available very soon in select models from Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo -- and in a long list of other makers' cars starting in a few years.

But what is CarPlay? As Fool contributor John Rosevear explains in this short video, CarPlay is Apple's first big foray into in-car "infotainment" -- an arena that is showing signs of becoming the next  big tech battleground.

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John Rosevear: Hey, Fools, it's John Rosevear. This past week saw the press days at the Geneva International Motor Show. This is a really important show for the auto industry in Europe and a lot of companies had important product announcements, and one of those companies was Apple.

No, Apple's not going into the auto business -- not yet anyway, but they are getting into the auto "infotainment" system business. Apple fans have heard the company talk about a system called "iOS in the Car" for a while now, but now here's the actual product. It's called CarPlay. Apple has positioned this as a "smarter, safer, and more fun way to use iPhone in the car." It does exactly what you'd expect. It gives you a way to use your voice and some simple controls mounted on the car's steering wheel to do pretty much everything you might want to do with your iPhone while you drive.

This is coming soon from a few automakers, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo showed off models that will incorporate CarPlay this past week in Geneva, and there's a long list of other automakers that will be rolling it out over the next few years.

Interestingly, one of the automakers that's not on that list is Tesla Motors  (NASDAQ: TSLA  ) . We've heard all sorts of rumors about some sort of Apple-Tesla tie-up recently, but apparently this isn't going to be part of that, and my guess is that's because Tesla may have committed itself to Android, to Google  (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) , which is working on a rival system.

The difference, though, is that Google is offering more of a platform, an Android-based platform for the whole in-car infotainment system, whereas Apple's CarPlay appears to be just functionality specific to integrating the driver's iPhone. But what's interesting is that a BlackBerry news site called N4BB says that it has confirmed that CarPlay runs on top of something called QNX, which is an in-car operating system developed by a company owned by BlackBerry.

QNX is used by many automakers to power their infotainment systems. Its main rival is a Microsoft  (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) system. Now, that Microsoft system is what underpins Ford's  (NYSE: F  ) SYNC and MyFord Touch systems, these are very prominent and as Ford owners and shareholders know, MyFord Touch has been very problematic and there were reports a few weeks ago that Ford would move the system to QNX in a couple of years, though Ford has said that they have no comment on those reports but they continue to work with Microsoft.

Now, Ford is listed among the companies that will be rolling out Apple's CarPlay at some point in the future. Does that mean that Ford really is moving to QNX, or does it mean that CarPlay also works on this Microsoft in-car operating system? Whatever. It apparently means that Apple, BlackBerry, and maybe Microsoft are all working together here. Stranger things have certainly happened. Meanwhile, if you have an iPhone and you want to use it in your car, it looks like that's going to get easier over the next few years.

Thanks for watching, and Fool on.

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John Rosevear

John Rosevear is the Fool's Senior Auto Specialist. John has been writing about the auto business and investing for over 20 years, and for The Motley Fool since 2007.

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