Once upon a time, the world could keep a secret. It took us ages to learn that Lindsay Lohan is loony, that Liberace was gay, that the calls were coming from inside the house.
Now, not so much. Case in point: this morning's Apple press event. A few years ago, the world would've been buzzing with excitement, not knowing what to expect from Tim Cook & Co. Today, however, the buzz is blunted because every grandmother from Cupertino to Cape Canaveral knows that Apple will unveil not one, but two new smartphones. Yawn.
But despite that lack of surprise, there's still plenty to discuss when it comes to Apple's offerings and what they mean for motorists. On that front, the company's two most important products are easily iOS 7 and "iOS in the Car".
Apple's latest mobile operating system, iOS 7, isn't available to the general public just yet, though it should be released very soon -- possibly today. (Apple's online store is down, perhaps to prepare for the launch, and the iOS 7 Wikipedia entry was just updated with a release date of September 10.)
That said, developers have had access to iOS 7 for weeks, and Apple has been hyping its features even longer. Those that should be especially useful for drivers include:
Better Apple Maps: No doubt about it, Apple Maps was one of the worst launches in recent Apple history. Not only did Apple eliminate the Google Maps app that many users knew and loved, but they replaced it with a half-baked application that was far less functional -- and all because of a spat between two giant corporations. (A variation on this lose-lose scenario played out recently in the battle between Time-Warner Cable and CBS.) Apple came off looking like an idiot who'd cut off his nose to spite his face.
Thankfully, Apple Maps has improved in recent months, and although it still pales in comparison to Google Maps -- which, after some wrangling, finally appeared in the App Store -- it's not without merit. iOS 7 will bring boosts for pedestrians, like spoken turn-by-turn navigation. We're still waiting to see what improvements will arrive for drivers.
iTunes Radio: This service won't launch until later in the year, but when it arrives, it'll be fully integrated into Apple's Music app, giving drivers access to streaming music on the go. Clearly, it's meant to compete with services like Pandora and Spotify. Will it be more successful than other iTunes add-ons, like the much-maligned iTunes Ping? We can't say for sure, but since iTunes will be able to sell songs to listeners who hear something they like, we wouldn't bet against it.
Passbook: Though Passbook is a native iOS app that can't be deleted, it's easy to forget about. However, once you start using it, your wallet could become much, much thinner. Passbook interfaces with a growing number of corporate apps, allowing you to ditch bulky frequent-shopper cards by storing them in one place. AutoZone, for example, lets car-owners store coupons in Passbook, rather than in a grimy glovebox. And on the road, Passbook keeps tabs of hotel reservations, boarding passes, and other important slips of digital data.
Siri's new voices: Siri hasn't kept up with the competition in the voice-recognition field. (Have you tried Google's voice search lately? It's brilliant.) But iOS 7 will bring new voices to Siri -- one male, and one female -- and they'll allegedly speak in a more human way that's easier to understand, which should come in handy when you need directions on the go.
iOS in the Car
The debut of iOS 7 will bring another important offering to the App Store: iOS in the Car. The app won't have many benefits right away, but beginning in 2014, a range of new vehicles will offer iOS connectivity, displaying loads of nifty data right on the car's center stack screen.
At the moment, that data includes commute summaries (i.e. a map of your travel route and an estimated time of arrival); phone management, so you can take and make calls, assisted by Siri; text management, allowing you to listen to and dictate messages via Siri; and of course, music and maps.
A long list of automakers have promised to provide telematics systems that integrate with iOS in the Car. At the moment, that list includes Acura, Audi, BMW, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Infiniti, Jaguar, Kia, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Toyota, and Volvo. Since integration is more a matter of software than hardware, we expect more automakers to join the list down the line -- and for owners of other vehicles and used cars, we should see aftermarket products, too.
Stay tuned for more details as they emerge from Cupertino this morning at 10am PST.