Ollie Marriage04 March 2014

Turning your car into an iPhone...

Apple announces tie-up with Volvo, Ferrari and Merc. TG has a prod round its in-car system

Turn your car into an iPhone

The next battleground for the big electronics companies is cars. Apple, Google and Microsoft are all trying to integrate their wares into your car. Android announced a link-up with Audi, GM, Honda and Hyundai back at the start of January, and now it's Apple's turn.

At the Geneva show today, Apple heralded a new tie-up with Volvo, Ferrari and Mercedes, with a system called Carplay. It's fairly straightforward. You plug your iPhone 5, 5C or 5S (earlier phones aren't supported, and it has to be plugged, not Bluetooth'd) into a dock, and up on the car's screen pop the familiar logos of your apps.

But not all of them. At the moment only phone calls, messages, music (including Spotify) and maps are supported. You get the impression more could be integrated, but there are safety concerns about having too much information at your fingertips while you're driving. No email at the moment, for instance.

It operates via Siri, Apple's voice recognition software, plus the touchscreen or mouse-controlled screen in the car.

Ferrari will be the first into production. Order an FF tomorrow and you can specify the system - even though as yet Ferrari hasn't decided if CarPlay will be a no-cost option or not.

CarPlay will also be available on the California T. Volvo will roll it out on the all-new XC90, to be introduced later this year.

How integrated is it? Not very. TG had a play with the Ferrari system, and if there's no data connection you can drop out of the CarPlay menu system back into the car's regular sat nav and infotainment set-up. You get the impression this is Apple piggy-backing the existing system rather than getting really under the skin.

Greg Joswiak, Apple's vice president of iPhone and iOS Product Marketing wouldn't be drawn on what hardware or software changes had been made behind the screen (which we took to mean they were relatively insignificant), but it seems clear this is just the start of a larger, deeper roll out, with Apple's electronics and user interface expertise, helping to make cars simpler and friendlier to use. This feels like early days at the moment.

From the car firm's point of view, aligning with one electronics brand could prove troublesome further down the line. Ferrari pointed out that they'd done some research and 90 per cent of their customers use Apple phones. For Volvo and Mercedes I doubt the figures are quite so skewed, meaning they could end up alienating those with Android and Windows phones.

Hard to say what might happen, but some car firms are known to have linked up with more than one supplier, so it's possible that in a few years, alongside heated seats and LED headlights, you might be able to option different on-board systems and choose your integration software.

And you can think further than that. Surely the technology exists already to integrate literally all your phone functions into the car. However, that won't be permitted because of the safety concerns we already mentioned.

But what if you didn't have to drive the car? There's the clever S-Class Mercedes that can drive itself. And Merc is also working with Apple. Surely putting the two together is the only way for this personal technology to be permitted in cars.

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