Better In-Car Integration Coming To The iPhone With OS 4.0?

April 13, 2010


It's been a glaring omission with the iPhone from the start: Users of the much-loved Apple device have no way of tapping into its full potential while in the car and behind the wheel—except by picking it up and operating it by hand, which is now, in most places, illegal. Yet the temptation remains and is no doubt a cause of distraction.

We've encountered a lack of good iPhone functionality in most new vehicles with wired or Bluetooth connectivity. For example, in a 2010 Ford Taurus with the otherwise excellent Sync voice-command system, we can't access Sync's phenomenal messaging capabilities with the iPhone. And recently in a 2010 BMW 7-Series, the vehicle's infotainment system wanted to identify the iPhone as a basic Bluetooth voice phone or a hard-wired media player, but not both.

In some new vehicles, even once the iPhone is paired, you still have to pick up the phone and touch the screen in order to answer a hands-free call. And the audio stored on your iPhone isn't available at all unless you use an analog-out patch cord (this writer carries a retractable one for exactly that reason)—a very inelegant, low-tech solution in today's fully digital world.

Apple's sold roughly 35 million iPhones, most of which are still in use, and there are roughly 200 million licensed drivers, many of them with newer cars with Bluetooth interfaces. That adds up, likely, to a whole lot of frustration as users find out what their systems can't do and wonder why.

The reason, as we explained a couple of months ago in a lengthy post in which we asked telematics experts, comes from a lack of standardization. And it isn't so much the fault of those who design in-vehicle interfaces as it is with handset makers that are counting on shorter-than-ever device lifetimes and packaging them with only the features they anticipate needing over that lifetime.

Finally, according to sources cited by The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW), a new iPod Accessory Protocol (IAP) that's to be included with Apple's OS 4.0 for the iPhone, might allow, with a car kit (we're still not sure about Bluetooth), full remote access to audio libraries through touch screen commands—such as those, potentially, like the upcoming MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch systems set to debut with the 2011 Lincoln MKX and later, the 2011 Ford Edge.

Ford has also announced that it will cooperate with RIM, the maker of Blackberry devices, to mutually support the new Message Access Profile (MAP) standard for messaging.

If it's more than speculation and rumor, it's a good but long-overdue step. Let's hope that Apple made its functionality known to automaker suppliers many months ahead of time so we don't have to wait long to see some real in-car iPhone functionality.


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