Apple’s CarPlay: The smart car wars are getting serious

Apple is stepping up its investment in connected cars with a new and improved initiative called CarPlay. The Posts's Hayley Tsukayama explains how CarPlay works, why it's such a big deal and what it means for Apple moving forward. (Jason Aldag and Jhaan Elker/The Washington Post)

Apple's amping up its investment in the connected car world. No, Siri's not going to drive for you, but she will be at your beck and call via a button in the steering wheel, the firm announced Monday.

Siri, along with features such as Apple Maps, music controls and access to messaging will be coming to some Volvo, Mercedes-Benz and Ferarri  by way of new software from Apple. Called CarPlay, the system will also read you your text messages as well as let you respond to them with a message or call of your own from behind the wheel. The integration gives drivers a way to stay apprised of what's going on with their digital lives without having to take their hands off of the wheel, or their eyes off the road.

The announcement is more than a rebranding of the "iOS in the Car" software the firm announced last year at its developers' conference — a feature already in some Chevy models. Apple also announced it will be bringing the technology to several other manufacturers, including Ford, General Motors, Honda, Subaru and Toyota. The first CarPlay vehicles will start shipping this year, the company said.

Cars have long been pegged as the next major battleground for consumer tech companies looking to bring their smart technologies to more parts of consumers' lives. At the International CES show in Las Vegas this year, Google announced a smart car partnership with Audi, to put its Android operating system in select models of the German firm's 2014 line. Microsoft has had a partnership with Ford for its "Sync" program, though it has reportedly lost that contract to BlackBerry's QNX  division, which has been building smart systems for the dashboard for years.

Looking at the firm's recent shopping list, it does seem as if Apple is investing in developing new apps. Most recently. the company confirmed that it had acquired Burstly, an app testing company, and has also picked up personal assistant, analytics and other mapping companies in the past year.

Apple's more serious move into the automotive world also offers clues as to where the company's next steps may be, as the company sees smartphone sales growth soften and faces questions about whether it can keep producing innovative products. Expanding to a new platform, such as the car, would be a smart way to find new customers — particularly if it could expand the company's lucrative App Store.

Of course, there's been heated speculation from analysts that Apple's next big app play will be in the smart television world, another hot area for consumer tech firms. But with the CarPlay announcement and confirmation last month from Tesla chief executive Elon Musk that he had spoken to  Apple — though, he told Bloomberg, an acquisition is unlikely — it's clear that Apple's got a keen eye on the space behind the wheel as well.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.

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