Apple Setting its Sights on Auto Industry

Apple Inc. has announced plans to begin partnering with automakers to offer its popular iOS mobile operating system on vehicle screens.

The move could present automakers with something of a double-edged sword situation.  On the one hand, partnering with Apple would allow automakers to offer their customers the cutting-edge technology that many have become familiar with on their desktop computers, tablets and smart phones. On the other hand, it could result in their having to give up their own operating systems. For example, Buick and GMC currently offer their IntelliLink system, and Ford Motor Company has invested significant amounts of time and money in developing its Ford Sync technology.

Gartner Inc. analyst Thilo Koslowski predicts “some potential tension going forward” because automakers see their own connected vehicle technology as a key component of their corporate branding. “That’s going to be an interesting balancing act in the automotive industry — to attract partners like Apple, but at the same time still hang onto that overall customer experience. If that’s being given away to somebody like Apple, then it won’t be much left for the automotive industry to succeed in the connected-vehicle space,” says Koslowski.

Apple says that Ford, Chevrolet, Nissan, Honda, Volvo and a number of premium automakers including Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar and Infiniti are planning to use its iOS.

General Motors is already using Apple’s voice-activated telematics assistant Siri Eyes Free in the 2013 Chevrolet Spark and Sonic, and in the Opel Adam. GM infotainment spokesman Scott Fosgard says the company is looking forward to working with Apple on future integrations including the ability to tap into data collected by OnStar.

BMW, which began integrating with the Apple iPod in 2004, plans to begin offering Siri Eyes Free feature in conjunction with its iDrive control system in 2014, but has no immediate plans to use Apple’s iOS.

BMW spokesman David Buchko said, “While we have the most robust iPhone integration, we think in the industry today, we’re also very careful about what we provide access to. That’s why, for example, we have a very thorough vetting process for third-party apps that we put forward for integration in the cars.”

Buchko also said that BMW is concerned about the dangers associated with driver distraction. “We’re very cognizant about things we think are appropriate to integrate into our cars,” he said.

IHS senior analyst Mark Boyadjis sees Apple as one of many players in the emerging connected vehicle industry. “Even though Apple is still a leader in this space,” he says, “Android and other platforms have shown there is still competition. An automaker can’t afford to say, ‘We’re going to sell our systems to everybody, but if you’re an iPhone user you’ll get so much more.’ It just doesn’t work that way.”

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