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Apple iOS for cars revealed in developer videos

When Apple has announced a new product or feature in the past, it has typically been available soon afterwards. But now that Apple has become an automotive supplier after years of being a de facto dictator of in-car connectivity, the amount of time between a feature's flashy debut at the company's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) and its actual arrival has stretched over months. And with the introduction of iOS for the Car last June, the wait is now approaching a year.

Apple's first official automotive product was Siri Eyes Free, announced at the 2012 WWDC. This opening salvo in Apple's play for the connected car allows the company's sassy voice assistant to ride shotgun so drivers can ask for directions, check their calendar, send and reply to text messages, or other requests that don't require returning a webpage. It took about nine months before Siri Eyes Free first appeared in Chevy vehicles. And even though Apple initially announced that nine automakers would integrate Siri Eyes Free within 12 months, so far only Chevrolet, Ferrari, Honda, and Mercedes-Benz have done so.

Even less seems to be happening with iOS in the Car. After announcing that a dozen car companies would incorporate iOS in the Car, after unveiling the feature at WWDC last June, so far it hasn't seen the light of day. But now two videos released on the same day late last month by a pair of Apple developers give a first glimpse of iOS in the Car.

Apple announced at WWDC 2013 that iOS in the Car would allow owners of the company's portable device and compatible cars to "make phone calls, play music, go to Maps, [and] get iMessages right on the screen." In his video, developer Steven Troughton-Smith shows only how Apple Maps may be rendered by iOS in the Car using an iOS Simulator and an iPhone running iOS 7.0.3.

Interface Details Revealed

The video reveals that Apple Maps would take up most the car's display, with translucent control panels appearing at top and bottom. But a second video by developer Denis Stas (above) shows a version of iOS in the Car using a beta 2 of iOS 7.1 that looks different and may be a better indication of what to expect. While Troughton-Smith's demo uses Apple Maps from iOS 6—even though the video clearly shows his phone running iOS 7.0.3—Stas's video shows the new iOS 7 Maps.

It also shows a different interface, with controls arrayed in a translucent bar on the left-hand side of the screen as opposed to the bottom, in addition to the controls at the top. This way they take up less screen area and are within easier reach of the driver.

Other changes include simplified menu options, with primary functions on the left side of the screen, and a Maps info box displayed as a separate pane, rather than covering the entire left half of the screen. One thing both videos and interfaces have in common—and shows how Apple is staking its claim in the dash in a subtle but graphic fashion—is the use of a home button like those found on Apple's portables, as opposed to the "house" icon that's common in cars now.

While the videos provides a hint of how iOS in the Car could look when we finally see it in the dashboard, a bigger question is how it will integrate with automakers' existing infotainment systems. And whether it could usurp them—at least for Apple users.

Despite Apple's declaration eight months ago that iOS in the Car would début in 2014—and that we're not even two months into the year—so far none of the automakers named have announced the feature. Not that they should be expected to, since car companies can be as cagey as Apple when it comes to unveiling new products.

The most interesting aspect of iOS in the Car won't be in how it functions; it's largely expected to replicate Apple's walled garden approach for its portable device in the dashboard. But based on back-channel chatter from people deeply involved the car tech space, the real question will be whether by adding iOS in the Car—and allowing Apple to extend its influence into the dash—it could mean that automakers could be locked out of participating in potentially lucrative features such as search and driver data analytics. We'll have to wait to see on that, too.