Why Your Next Car will Have an Apple iDash

Why Your Next Car will Have an Apple iDash

Is Apple getting into the car business? No, Apple isn’t building a car. But it makes perfect sense that Apple would be working on an in-dash system.

The car blog Jalopnik said this week that a Chinese head-hunting firm is apparently helping Apple hire someone expert in the manufacturing of car parts. The recruiter apparently placed the position in the automotive section of LinkedIn. The listing said:

“Apple(China) Looking for SQE/NPI with over 4 years Mechanical engineering background familiar with CNC/die casting/stamping/plastic injection, can use APQP/ PPAP/SPC to control product quality.”

PatentlyApple.com has reported over the years multiple patents held by Apple for in-car user interfaces.

The circumstantial evidence suggests that Apple is at least thinking about getting serious about the automotive dashboard business.

And getting into the car business just makes sense for Apple. Here’s why. 

People Consume Content in Cars

As I’ve written on this blog before, Apple doesn’t see itself as a generic consumer electronics company, as most outside people see it.

Apple sees itself as a content experience company. High-end devices like iMacs are optimized for the creation of content. And mobile devices are optimized for the consumption of content.

Apple’s approach to everything is that it pursues opportunities to improve the content consumption experience wherever that experience is wanting for millions of users. They do it with integrated hardware, software and services working together to make the experience awesome instead of awful.

The music experience sucked, and Apple fixed it with iPod and iTunes.

The mobile phone content experience sucked, and Apple fixed it with iPhone and the App Store.

The video, eBook, web site experiences sucked, and Apple fixed it with iPad, iTunes the App Store and iCloud.

The TV and home movie experience still sucks, and Apple is working on fixing it with Apple TV and a future rumored TV set.

Guess what? Driving or riding in a car is a major and universal content consumption experience. Almost everyone in the “industrialized world” gets in a car every day. And almost everyone who gets into a car consumes content in that car.

And the experience sucks.

Most people still listen to crappy FM radio, and simply use their phones for content.

Most new cars come with jacks that let you plug your iPhone or other phone or music player into the sound system. Meh. Not ideal. Others connect via Bluetooth.

High-end cars, and even many mid-range cars, have GPS navigation built into the dash. But most people use the Maps app on their phone to get around. Taking eyes off the wheel while trying to read tiny text on the phone is dangerous.

Many high-end family cars, SUVs and minivans come with displays behind the front-seat headrests so parents can pacify kids with DVDs. The content available tends to be non-educational garbage. And swapping out the content is often done by the driver, which is dangerous.

Despite laws and warnings, nearly everyone talks on their phone inside cars. And some even text by actually looking at the screen and typing.

Apple already has 95% of the solution to all these content consumption, convenience and safety problems.

An iPad built into the dash would be simply awesome. iCloud could sync content with what people have already downloaded, purchased or created at home. This wouldn’t even require mobile broadband — the iPad would load itself with content using the home Wi-Fi network while the car is parked in the driveway. Of course, mobile broadband would also be a nice extra.

Siri control would enable drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road, even while getting turn-by-turn directions or navigating music or podcasts.

iPads in the back for the kids would enable parents to load those screens with educational content, and enable the kids themselves to control it so the parent driver doesn’t have to worry about it.

The integration of Apple into dashboards is already in the works at the pricey end of the spectrum.

Mercedes Benz will demonstrate later this week at the Geneva Motor Show an upgrade option called the Drive Kit Plus, which interoperates with the driver’s iPhone via Siri.

But what about the 99%? The Mercedes solution will leave literally hundreds of millions of people consuming content the old-and-busted way. Apple has good reasons to step in and offer the new hotness.

But how?

First of all, Apple would need to make installed iPads both safe, and integrated.

From a safety perspective, any installed iPad would need to be strongly embedded so it didn’t become loose in an accident. The sound system — both speakers and microphone — would have to be integrated into the car’s sound system — and Apple would want to control what those electronics are to maximize the experience.

iPads look bad in direct sunlight, so some work needs to be done there.

And the real home run would be for all the car’s details — gas gauge, speedometer, odometer, etc., to be displayed in an app, rather than with a Victorian-era dial or a separate electronic displays built into another part of the dash.

In order to maximize the experience, Apple would want to control how and where the iPad was installed. In order to do that, the company would need to hire outside expertise — say, by placing an ad in China for a mechanical engineer familiar with factory manufacturing.

They would work with car companies the same way they work with wireless carriers — our way or the highway. Apple would offer to do the design work, and integrate with a car’s electronics. But Apple would control the app ecosystem, and both how the in-dash system is designed and marketed to the public.

Apple is obviously a desirable premium brand, which would help auto makers sell a lot of cars. Some car companies, such as Ford, have done an enormous amount of work to build all this capability themselves, working with partners like Microsoft. Such features like voice control, and integrated navigation and music playing help Ford succeed in the car market.

Everyone else would be able to leapfrog Ford by signing a single contract with Apple.

Apple in cars is a no-brainer. It’s exactly in line with Apple’s mission, core competency and historic role as the transformer of content consumption.

I think they’re going to do it.

Picture courtesy of Stuart Hughes: https://plus.google.com/113117251731252114390/posts/hGdwYRf2hu6

  • marcwitteveen

    Hmm, an 8 inch might fit easier… 

  • Benji Kindle

    Who says in iPad has to be involved, or even a screen at all? Siri is a great way of controlling a phone when you are driving, and a touch screen would be even worse then physical buttons to control while driving (because you cannot feel the buttons). I doubt this will happen until 2015 if at all and by then Siri will be perfected and great for being built into a car.

  • Connor Mulcahey

    For the dash I agree, you should be able to navigate, play music, answer your phone, control the heat, defroster, seat warmers etc. through voice no problem. Just put a button on the steering wheel next to your thumb that you just push to talk and you’re set. However, I think that screens in the headrests for the backseat passengers would be good. 

  • George Wedding

    I expect this product to be a larger iPod+. It will NOT be a smaller iPad mini. To fit into ISO standard (Double-DIN (180x100mm) automotive dashboards, the form factor must be a 7-inch, 16:9 device. A scaled-down iPad with the 4:3 aspect ratio won’t fit, unless a new ISO head-unit standard is introduced. In addition, the iPod is more of a consumption device than the iPad.

    Some recent rumors have a “smaller iPad” being introduced this fall. If such a device does arrive this fall, it’s likely to be an iPod descendant, since new iPods traditionally are introduced each fall. If it’s going to be a “smaller iPad”, it will be introduced next week, but I don’t think this will happen.

    Instead, watch for an iPod+ this fall.

  • erfon elijah

    hope you’re right mike.  i’ve been saying apple needs to bring airplay to the car since they released it.

  • imajoebob

    Tread carefully, Apple.  Anything more than audio and GPS will have government outlawing your gadget in a heartbeat.  Any video is already banned in some states.  And if you’re looking to make a single control center to operate multiple gadgets, stop now – WE HATE IT!!  Ask BMW about the “success” of their iDrive system, or any of the other multi-use controllers.  We have a split second to change the fan speed without plowing into the tanker in front of us; we can’t waste time jumping through menus.

    Just like the steering wheel, there are a number of driving paradigms that haven’t changed in a century BECAUSE THEY WORK.  As Tom Magliozzi (appropriately) said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t break it.”

  • ericthehalfbee

    No offence, but I don’t see it happening. This is the field I work in (embedded systems for automotive use).
     
    No manufacturer is going to give up control over a component or subsystem in their vehicles, and Apple isn’t going to give control of their device over to another party.
     
    I’ll use BMW as an example. Every computer module in the car is connected via a network (they use several, but CAN is the most common). These modules are also “coded” to the vehicle (if a defective module is replaced it doesn’t fully function until it’s matched to the vehicle through programming/encoding).
     
    When BMW updates the software on one of their “modules” (let’s say they fix some bluetooth connectivitiy issues), they not only update the software in that specific module but often update the software in several related modules. This is why it takes them time to come out with updates because they test their “bug fixes” in the context of the entire car and all the modules, not just the one that has the issue.
     
    BMW also does this to maintain the quality of the driver experience. For example, if a module fails some shops would try to find a used module from a wrecked car and swap it in. The problem is there’s no way to know what software version is on this “used” part and how it will function in the context of the entire vehicle, which could be on a different version number. If a customer drives a car that’s experiencing electrical problems are they going to blame a shop that changed a module, or are they going to blame BMW? Usually they blame BMW. This also gets rid of the “black market” for used BMW parts and reduces the chances of thieves stealing BMW’s to strip them down for all their expensive modules, since they can’t really be re-sold.
     
    I don’t see Apple allowing someone like BMW to be in charge of the iOS software updates to a device installed into a vehicle. And I don’t see BMW putting all of their functionality into an App (which they would be able to update) when an App doesn’t give them full control over the hardware.
     
    IMO, this is something I could see Android doing since they would allow the manufacturers to modify Android to their specific needs. They could “skin” it to make sure it looks/operates consistently with the rest of the vehicle. And they could be responsible for their own updates.
     
     
    Now what I do think is a possibility is that Apple may be getting into the multi-billion dollar aftermarket business. They’ve transformed every business they’ve been in, so why not make an Apple car stereo? Maybe call it the iDeck? There are companies making Android decks and decks that interface with iOS, but they have been kind of clunky. An all-in-one deck from Apple would probably be a huge seller. Just my opinion….

  • Jon Rendle

    Here’s an interesting fact: 70% of Mercedes-Benz owners have an iPhone, but the iPhone doesn’t  work with MB’s COMMAND Online system because it uses Bluetooth DUN, which the iPhone doesn’t support (or more likely disabled).

    So don’t throw away that old Nokia or Sony Ericsson phone just yet, because most car manufacturers don’t have a clue about in car tech. Mercedes-Benz are stuck in 2005 with a in-car computer system that was launched in 2011!  

  • MacHead84

    Most people who put screens in the back of headrests for back seat passengers are people with kids (who cant reach the touch screens because they are restrained in car seats) or blacks (who drive crappy cars and then install expensive rims and video screens) They arent the market of high end vehicle makers. And not to mention youd need a big ass headrest to fit an iPad!

  • daviddaly5

    That would be so cool! I hope it happens

  • Vincent Flament

    Ok I really don’t see why it should be an Ipad. On the contrary if Apple gets into the auto market, it’s probably going to be with the Iphone and the Ipod touch. Why well simple, they will always sell more of these devises than Ipads, so the market is larger.
    Also there is really no need for such a big screen, most GPS are only a little larger than Iphones.
    Finally to improve the user experience the devise will need to be connected to internet on the road. Most Iphones are, whereas most Ipad sold are the Wifi variety.

    So my thinking is as follows: What apple will do is to create an in dash Iphone holder with either an integrated stereo system, or wires that connect to an existing car stereo. the dash holder will be nice and functional but also safe and intelligent: It will enable you to see the screen as a GPS devise and a music player, but won’t let you make calls or surf internet whilst driving.

    In effet it will be an improvement on what already exists. I for example use an Iphone car mount and Navigon to route me everywhere and listen to music via the aux port. It gives me traffic info, and routes me everywhere. I never had a need for a separate GPS ever. The only problem. it’s ungracious, full of cable and controlling music is awkward and dangerous. 

    Apple will solve this issue as it usually does not because it will be the most innovative, but because the product will be well thought, easy to use and well integrated. I think it may also be what apple calls a hobby, and will likely not be very expensive.

  • neena_n

    This is a good concept. Sure there are lots of details to iron out, and safety is a big issue. It can be argued both ways as to whether such a set up makes driving safer or more dangerous – and I can understand points on both sides. But getting the ball rolling now is important because if Apple doesn’t do it – someone else will. That is the direction in which we are headed.

  • RobotDevil

    Ahem…what if you would have used Mercedes in your example, instead of BMW?  Your hypothetical would be made moot by the article below. 

    http://gizmodo.com/5888802/sir

  • MySkyizBlue

    Who says everything to be about driving. I would love to have a screen in my dashboard to read tweets with when I’m parked.

  • Rachel Wynkoop

    I hope this happens that would be great!

  • Alex

    So are you always a racist or just sometimes ?

  • concerned3210

    this author is a idiot , you cant put this stuff in automobiles traffic deaths would climb astronomacaily, all this crap is destroying are youth, I look for people all the time on phones while driving , I have the local state police number to pull over and call as soon as I see one which is serval times a day.I have done won one law suit with a driver playing his gadget while driving running over me and I am looking for the next one, this is ten times worse than driving drunk… you people live in a fatasy world.. I may come to silicon see if I can get you to run me over . you may think twice before you ever play with your stupid gadget while driving get a life! 

  • Cold_dead_fingers

    This black drives a Fusion Hybrid with the Navigation package. Backseat displays are usually in family cars, moron. Car companies would have those options available in MKZs if people who bought those cars also used them as family cars, which most don’t. Get out of the South and go to college, faith is not equal to education.

  • Daniel

    You folks are so busy checking out computers and mobile devices, it looks like you have not paid attention to the automobile industry. Volkswagen (and Audi by proxy) have already announced iPads included in models due to be sold in the next two years. They have displayed this tech marriage in several auto shows worldwide.

  • Cold_dead_fingers

    iPods are music players with media abilities. There is not reason to have an 8 inch iPod

  • Cold_dead_fingers

    I beg to differ. Maybe BMW thinks they’re better off having complete control, but a company like Tesla knows how important it is to play to strengths. After all, they sell their technology to other companies. They have showed continued interest in what the iPad does. I’m willing to bet the small business premium companies would invest in Apple, and probably gain market share as a result. These companies that I speak of, by the way, are mostly Electric and premium Extended range EV companies. Apple would benefit from the green-ness of their dealings too.

  • Cold_dead_fingers

    That’s what Siri is for, numbnuts.

  • HecticDMC

    What a well thought-out, fully reasonable response. Keep up the good work; you are clearly highly educated and well-informed.

  • MaxTremors

    Wouldnt it be your fault if you are trying to walk out in front of a moving vehicle? If you are truly that stupid, you deserve to have your face peeled off on the asphalt under someone’s tire.

  • George Wedding

    The reason to manufacture one is because this is the form factor that would fit into an automotive dashboard (7-inch, not 8-inch, 16:9 aspect ratio, not 4:3). Maybe a larger, automotive unit won’t be called an iPod or iPod+ (but something else) and will have other capabilities (front and rear camera syncs, odometer, fuel consumption and mileage tracking, maintenance reminders, etc.). I just am saying it likely would have to based on the iPod form factor…

  • George Wedding

    The software in most embedded vehicle entertainment systems, and certainly in virtually all third-party entertainment systems (Kenwood, Pioneer. etc.) is mediocre at best. People who uses iOS devices all day don’t want to switch to a different software interface when they enter their vehicles. Even now, connecting an iPod or iPhone to a vehicle head unit makes for a terrible user experience — the software interfaces are step down and just bad. There will be a huge market for Apple automotive devices.

  • MacHead84

    If something is true, it can not be racist. Do you always choose to ignore reality, or just when skin color is involved? 

  • MacHead84

    Nowhere in my comment did I saw ALL BLACKS. Just like I could make the comment you wont see iPads in tractors because the whites who drive tractors arent tech savvy. My statement was factual. I mentioned the family cars but there is a second group who put displays in headrests. Dont try and deny it! and I can assure you, you dont become an accountant without going to college. 

  • Robert Gauthier

    BMW already has a snap in cradle for iPhones, it would be easy to put this into the dash, making access easier and allowing easier iPod integration- replace the screen the auto maker includes.  Also, with DRM now not an issue, it would be easier to port music via the 30 pin connector, making a cradle an easier design and sell.  

  • Robert Gauthier

    While this may seem intuitive, statistics do not bear this out.  
    distraction is a concern, but traffic accidents per capita are way down from a decade ago.  
    if you utilized a heads up projector with it, i bet it would be safer.  BMW has already done that with the new 3 series- get nav, you get HUD.

  • Robert Gauthier

    But don’t you think it will be in the car manufacturers benefit to have a defined partnership with Apple, Nokia, etc?  Remember, every BT device attached to an iPhone or iPad generates a royalty for Apple, which they just dropped from several dollars to less than .25, so it is not control, but mutual revenue.  And since Apple clearly dominates the phone and MP3 business, who better to get into bed with, they bring a huge number of users.  Ford will do the same with Sync.  Embedding seamless integration is an easy sell for cars, negligible expense for automakers and nice new revenue stream for phone makers.  Bet they are out there negotiating right now.  
    And Android would be at a huge disadvantage, as their market is very fragmented to even the specific phone level from a technology standpoint.

  • CharliK

    Sooty but I’m not buying it.

    Distraction laws are so hip now that some folks want to outlaw fm radio in the cars. I can’t see them allowing an iPad or such. Plus getting any content on it when it is embedded in the dash. You’ll likely have to remove it and that destroys the notion it is safer cause in a crash that mount could break open and you still have an iPad flying around.

    Plus the Geniuses are going to come out to your car and Apple isn’t likely to allow mechanics to serve their tech. So another reason to remove it.

    As for the kiddies, a two year old can figure out how to get out of a car seat if he really wants to and hanging an iPad out of reach is a strong enticement. Certainly older kids won’t be happy with just watching, they want to hold and play

    Cars aren’t meant to be consumption locations especially for drivers and frankly I can see Apple getting into something thT makes any already dangerous item even more so. Certainly that a post for mechanical engineers being put in a car mag, or whatever it was, isnt proof they are wanting to get involved in that market in any way

  • Hoser Man

    Anything is better than the current Ford/Microsoft Sync. It is a typical cumbersome Microsoft software package that is the most difficult to use. It makes a great iPod interface to access your music, apps, telephone numbers, etc. and turns it into a Windows 95 experience. What a POS system Sync. is.

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  • ericthehalfbee

    Nothing really special about that. BMW already does something similar with their Connected Drive. There’s a huge difference between having a system you control interface with an external device (like a customers iPhone) and having someone else’s hardware actually integrated into your vehicle.

  • ericthehalfbee

    It might be mediocre, but it’s 100% under the control of the manufacturer. People always say Apple is fanatical about having complete control over their products (hardware/software). Vehicle manufacturers are the same way. This is why I don’t believe we’ll ever see an Apple device permanently integrated into a vehicle. At least not mainstream vehicles.

  • John Graves

    Farmers aren’t tech savvy? Many of the fields are set up with GPS and the tractor drives itself and can determine how much fertilizer is needed in a specific part of the field. Farming is very modern.

  • aardman

    I think it will happen and is quite imminent.  It will be another leg on Apple’s stool, not just another hobby.

  • MacHead84

    Im not even wasting my time on this thread anymore if people cant read. I never even mentioned farmers or farming. Maybe todays CoM stories will have better commenters in the discussions.

  • joewaylo

    I wouldn’t wait for this to happen myself. I’d take my car to a customs shop, let them strip my dashboard to barebones, and add a plug and play touchscreen monitor that you can put the iPad or iPhone jack in. Then have it Mirror the iDevice twice the viewing capacity.

  • MacGoo

    I completely agree – I’ve worked in this industry as well, and they are worse than cellular providers. That said, I can see them releasing some sort of API that would allow for tighter integration of aftermarket interfaces. And if I were a car manufacturer looking for a partner to promote that, the FIRST place I would go would be Cupertino.

About the author

Mike ElganMike Elgan writes about technology and culture for a wide variety of publications. Follow Mike on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

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