Apple's CarPlay: Voice-Activated iPhones Aid Drivers

Apple on Monday announced the launch of CarPlay -- a new system that enablres drivers to use their iPhone hands-free through a vehicle’s in-dash display.

Launching this week with automakers Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo, the service allows users to make calls and access GPS navigation, music and messaging through a voice command or touchscreen. Compatible with a car’s built-in controls, CarPlay is activated through a push-and-hold button on the steering wheel and utilizes Apple’s voice-activated assistant, Siri.

"CarPlay has been designed from the ground up to provide drivers with an incredible experience using their iPhone in the car," stated Greg Joswiak, Apple vice president of iPhone and iOS product marketing. "IPhone users always want their content at their fingertips, and CarPlay lets drivers use their iPhone in the car with minimized distraction."

The system requires an update to iOS 7 and will work only with the iPhone 5S, 5C and 5. Once connected, it allows drivers to access contacts, make calls, return missed calls or listen to voicemail via Siri. When a new message or notification arrives, the system reads out the messages and allows a driver to dictate a response.

CarPlay also employs Apple Maps (no mention of Google Maps), to anticipate destinations based on recent trips and other information, like emails or texts. In addition, it provides spoken turn-by-turn directions and GPS navigation, appearing on the car’s display.

People can also access their music library, podcasts, audiobooks and iTunes Radio. CarPlay further supports “select” third-party audio apps including Spotify and iHeartRadio. The release did not specify the availability of Pandora, which competes directly with iTunes Radio and separately has native integration with 130 car models.

The launch of CarPlay opens up a new battleground between iOS and Android beyond mobile phones and tablets to connected cars. In January, Google announced the Open Automotive Alliance, a group of automakers that will bring Android to cars including General Motors, Honda and Hyundai. The first Android-equipped vehicles are slated to arrive later this year.

While Apple did not specify how it will monetize CarPlay, simply extending the iOS to autos will bring benefits, noted Stephen Baker, VP, industry analysis, at the NPD Group. “The leverage and opportunities that drive the need to grow the ecosystem today are just amplified by entering the car market, more money from apps, more money and value in the devices and in the services that the ecosystem enables,” he said.

In addition to the initial trio of automakers featuring CarPlay in select models, Apple said a dozen other manufacturers will eventually adopt the system including Ford, General Motors, BMW, Subaru, Honda and Toyota.

The first outlines of the new technology came into view last June, with Apple’s “iOS in the Car” initiative, with the aim of marrying the iPhone with a car’s own dashboard electronics to power services like mapping, making calls and receiving iMessages. 

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