Apple’s plan for cars: use your iPhone to control the air conditioning, seats, radio

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Apple Inc., whose CarPlay interface is used by millions of motorists to control music, get directions and make phone calls, is looking to expand its reach in cars.

The company is working on technology that would allow access to features like the air conditioning system, speedometer, radio and seats, according to people familiar with the effort. The initiative, known as “IronHeart” internally, is still in its infancy and would require the cooperation of car manufacturers.

The work underscores the idea that cars could be a major source of money for the tech giant, even without selling a vehicle itself. Although plans for an Apple car have seen setbacks, including the defection of key executives this year, the company has continued to make inroads with CarPlay. It allows customers to connect their iPhone to a vehicle to manage so-called infotainment functions. Seven years after its launch, CarPlay is now offered by most of the major car manufacturers.

IronHeart would push CarPlay even further. The iPhone-based system could access a range of controls, sensors and settings, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the project is under wraps.

Including:

  • indoor and outdoor temperature and humidity readings
  • temperature zones, fans and defrost systems
  • settings for surround speakers, equalizers, tweeters, subwoofers and fade and balance
  • seats and armrests
  • speedometer, tachometer and fuel instrument clusters

An Apple spokesperson declined to comment on the Cupertino company’s automotive plans. Apple shares rose 1.1% to $ 143.49 as trading began Thursday morning in New York.

By accessing the controls and instruments, Apple could turn CarPlay into an interface that can cover almost the entire car. The data could also be used by Apple or third parties to create new types of applications or add functionality to existing functions.

Some Apple users have complained about the need to switch between CarPlay and a car’s built-in system to manage key commands. This initiative would reduce these frictions.

The effort would be similar to Apple’s approach to health and home technology. The company offers an iPhone app that can access and aggregate data from external health devices using its HealthKit protocol. The Home app, on the other hand, uses Apple’s HomeKit system to control smart devices, including thermostats, security cameras, and door locks.

IronHeart is said to be Apple’s biggest push in cars since CarPlay released in 2014, but it may not be a hit with automakers. They might be reluctant to cede control of key features to Apple. Although CarPlay is now featured in over 600 car models, other Apple initiatives in recent years have been slower to catch on with automakers.

In 2015, Apple began allowing automakers to create third-party apps for CarPlay that can access the car stereo, GPS, and climate controls. In 2019, it started supporting CarPlay on secondary car displays like digital instrument clusters. A year later, he announced CarKey, a feature to unlock a car with an iPhone or Apple Watch, and electric vehicle routing, the ability for the iPhone to detect when connected to an electric vehicle, and to provide information about the loader in the maps view.

But automakers have mostly been reluctant to add these upgrades. Air conditioning and radio applications are only supported by a few cars. And the EV routing feature is not available on any of the vehicles currently being shipped. The CarPlay display extension is only supported by a few brands, such as BMW and Volkswagen, and CarKey is only available on certain BMWs.

For a while, Apple also allowed its voice assistant Siri to operate certain features of the car, allowing it to change audio sources and radio stations, move seats, and adjust air conditioning settings. But those features, which relied on app support from automakers, were removed in iOS 15, the latest version of the iPhone operating system, according to a message sent to developers in July. Apple could ultimately delay or even cancel IronHeart’s features if they don’t show enough promise.

Some manufacturers, including Tesla Inc., have completely ignored the automotive efforts of Apple and Google, choosing to create their own next-generation infotainment ecosystems. Ford Motor Co. is also looking to become more ambitious. He recently hired Doug Field, the former chief engineer of Tesla and head of Apple’s own automotive project, to work on its on-board technology.

Still, automakers risk angering iPhone fans by focusing on their own incompatible systems. And that could ultimately inspire more of them to embrace Apple’s technology. They can also choose to implement the features in different ways depending on the car. In some vehicles, Apple could take control of the climate controls, while others may only offer speaker access.

For Apple, the project could provide useful information for its efforts to build an autonomous car. However, the company would not collect user or car data as part of the initiative.

After Field left, the company appointed Kevin Lynch, head of Apple Watch and Health software, to lead the automotive project. A real car is probably years away – if it ever happens – but Apple has several former Tesla vice presidents and former BMW electric car manager Ulrich Kranz working on the project.

Gaining more foothold in cars could also allow the iPhone to remain entrenched in the daily lives of customers. Every time the device handles more tasks – like using a car, paying for groceries, showing ID, or unlocking a house door – it gives consumers another reason to remain an iPhone user.

Then they’re more likely to upgrade to newer models and avoid competing phones. Even with Apple’s push into new areas, the iPhone remains the company’s biggest money maker, accounting for about half of sales, or nearly $ 138 billion last year.


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